Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his pistemological studies with children. His theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called “genetic epistemology”. He proposed that children progress through four stages of cognitive development, each with distinctive characteristics that permit specific kinds of thinking (Myers,2011) Sensorimotor stage (birth to about two years): In the first two years of life, a child’s intellectual development is largely nonverbal. The child is mainly concerned with learning to coordinate purposeful movements with information from the senses.
Kids learn about their environment by touching, tasting, smelling. Also important at this time is gradual emergence of the concept of object permanence – the awareness that objects continue to exist when not perceived (Myers, 2011). This and representation or mental pictures do not really occur until about 18 mos. to 2 years. By about age 1 and 1/2; the child begins to actively pursue disappearing objects. By age 2, the child can anticipate the movement of an object behind a screen. For example, when watching an electric train, the child looks ahead to the end of a tunnel, rather than staring at the spot where the train disappeared.
In general, developments in this stage
Remembering my children on this stage of life would be my analysis: My kids at this stage observed a mass of bright red and white, deep booming sounds, a soft lap, and a tickly beard. My son was feeling frightened but my daughter was curious. He cried at this oddly dressed hairy guy with a booming voice while my daughter reached out and wanted to touch the beard and the red suit. Their belief in Santa’s existence is not an issue because they never asked me after the appearance of Santa at the shopping mall. I wasn’t asked who was Santa. Preoperational stage [2-7 years] – Language is the big thing.
They are developing ability to think symbolically (Myers, 2011) and to use language. My kids at this stage were very easy to understand. Very concrete on their answers; “Are you hungry? ” “Yes”. They seem to listen carefully if you are explaining something. The name for a thing is real–is the thing, they won’t elaborate. I cannot shut them up when the words become intriguing and fascinating to them. The use of who, when, how, why, what were very active at this stage. But they have a tendency to confuse words with the objects they represent (if a child labels a block a car and you use it to make a train, child may be upset. To children, the name of an object is as much a part of the object as its size, shape, and color.
Their theory of mind-“people’s ideas about their own and other’s mental states about their feelings, perceptions, and thoughts, and the behavior these might predicts” (Myers, 2011) They are sensitive with name calling, and an insulting name may hurt so much. “You panty-girdle! ” is no joke. Quite egocentric – “unable to take the viewpoint of other people” (Myers, 2011). Can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality. The child is the center of the world, it is “mine” and “I made that happen.
“Real” sense of control. If parents are going through divorce problems, the child may feel totally responsible. Not a period of logic. What the child can see and manipulate concretely –that’s the experience. Unable to reverse their thoughts – “I have a brother, Tim. ” “Does Tim have a brother? ” “No” (Myers, 2011) NOTE: Although children are beginning to talk to themselves and act out solutions to problems, touching and seeing things will continue to be more useful than verbal explanations. Concrete examples will also have more meaning than generalizations.
The child should be encouraged to classify things in different ways. Learning the concept of conservation-“the principle that properties such as mass, volume, and number remain the same despite of changes in the forms of objects” (Myers, 2011) may be aided by demonstrations involving liquids, beads, clay, and other substances. On encountering Santa, what would the preoperational stage child observe, think and feel, believe? Going back to my children’s experience with Santa; My kids at this stage observed the consistency in Santa’s clothing (red suit) and his demeanor (jolly, Ho-Ho-Ho).
They believed in the physical reality of Santa—that Santa lives at the North Pole and that he stays warm because he wears the red suit and boots. At this stage, they think that Santa has the ability to watch over them and determine who is naughty and nice – this encourage a child at this stage to behave. They were excited about encounters with Santa and created a long list of wishes that expects Santa to fulfill via his reindeer-drawn sleigh. The breakdown in belief in Santa Claus tends to correspond with a child’s transition into the concrete operational stage.
What are the general characteristics of the concrete operational child? Concrete Operational Stage [7-11 Years] – Increasingly logical. Inductive learning–can do mental manipulations as well as physical ones. Child is fully gain the mental ability to comprehend mathematically transformations and conservations- the original amount is conserved–regardless of what you do to an object, the value remains the same (appearance of clay changes but the volume doesn’t) – or – Size of container may vary, but contents remains the same (Myers,2011). And, a child’s thoughts begin to include the concepts of time, space, and number.
Categories and principles are used, and the child can think logically about concrete objects or situations. Stop believing in Santa Claus–his sack couldn’t possibly hold that much–couldn’t possibly go to everyone’s house, etc. Another important development at this time is the ability to reverse thoughts or operations. If 4 x 2 = 8….. well, then 2 x 4 must also equal 8. Younger children must memorize each relationship separately.
Note: Children in this stage are beginning to use generalizations, but they still require specific examples to grasp many ideas. Expect a degree of inconsistency in the child’s ability to apply concepts of time, space, quantity, and volume to new situations. On encountering Santa, what would the concrete operational child observe, think, feel, believe? My children at this stage begin to recognize the inconsistencies in Santa’s appearance: “How can there be so many Santa’s all over the town? ” or “Why are some Santa’s thin? ” My kids begin to think and question: How can Santa get to kids’ homes all over the world in one night? How can reindeer fly? Just how does Santa keep track of good behavior?
My son had a feeling of disappointment at realizing that Santa doesn’t exist; however, he enjoyed in assisting her younger sister in continuing her belief in Santa. A child at this stage will no longer believe in Santa, but may think it is important to continue the tradition because having developed conservation abilities will realize that the number of presents will decrease if there are no “Santa” presents under the tree. How do these transitional experiences differ from the characteristics of the formal operational child and adult?
Formal operation Stage [11 years and up] – Abstract thinking. Deductive reasoning–not necessarily tied to experience. Not all individuals attain this stage of cognitive development in all areas. Sometime after about the age of 11, the child begins to break away from concrete objects and specific examples. Thinking is based more on abstract concepts (Myers,2011). They can think about their thoughts, and they become less egocentric- a child’s difficulty in taking other people’s point of view( Myers, 2011). Thinking is more abstract.
They are able to consider hypothetical possibilities. A child attains full adult intellectual abilities during this stage. Will try to understand and seek solutions, consider the possibilities and discuss their implications. The older adolescent is capable of inductive and deductive reasoning and can comprehend math, physics, philosophy, psychology, and other abstract systems. From this point on, improvements in intellectual ability are based on gaining knowledge, experience, and wisdom, rather than on gains in basic thinking capacity.
When I asked my children about their memories with Santa; they appreciate the cultural custom of Santa. They enjoy Santa as a symbol of seasonal celebration in keeping with their ability to understand abstract ideas. They recognize the importance of shared customs as a means of promoting closeness in their families and culture by sharing gifts on Christmas Day and put under the tree. They also enjoy the Santa socks display on each of their bedroom door and they are still excited of the different stuff I put into the socks.