Human development: focus on Jean Piaget

If we want to appreciate Piaget’s influence on the theory of cognitive development, we must begin by acknowledging his theoretical orientation. Piaget’s system is evolutionary in the sense that it examines the early processes that infants and toddlers use to gain an understanding of their environment and of themselves. Piaget also uses a cognitive system when it comes to mental representation. In short, Piaget believed that children do not think like adults. In his life and research work, which spans nearly 75 years, this Swiss philosopher-psychologist-epistemologist sought to explain development in such a way as to avoid both preformation and environmental determinism. His initial work was developed around two fundamental questions: What characteristics of children allow them to adapt to their environment? And … what is the simplest, most accurate and useful way to classify or order child development? These questions give us an idea of ​​Piaget’s basic biological orientation. Furthermore, the responses it offers, assimilation (which implies responding to situations in terms of activities or knowledge that have already been learned or that are present at birth) and accommodation (which implies changing existing schemes to integrate new experiences) are a key feature of his theory. Piaget believed that the mind is an active participant in the learning process; When a child’s experience fits into an existing frame of mind, he is assimilating; when it doesn’t, the mind can adapt to the new experience. Finally, the interplay of assimilation and accommodation leads to adaptation. This interaction or movement that leads to adaptation demonstrates Piaget’s concept of “mobile” intelligence. This concept was very different from “fixed intelligence” in the traditional approach of its time.

The stage theory
Piaget is probably best known for his work that describes development in a progressive series of stages. Each stage represents the main identifying characteristics of the children in that stage and the learning that occurs before the transition to the next stage. According to Piaget, the child is in the sensorimotor stage from birth to approximately 2 years of age. At this stage, the child’s intelligence is based on self-discovery and body movement; children learn using their senses while experiencing activities. This stage is followed by the preoperational stage, 2 to 7 years, when cognitions of concepts and symbols are restricted to immediate personal experience. In other words, children judge things by their appearance and begin to use symbols through the language they are learning. Approximately at the ages of 7 to 12 years, the child begins to think logically, moving to the stage of Concrete Operations. During this time, the child learns to classify and sequence elements and to communicate through concrete thinking. Then, at approximately 11 or 12 years of age, the child goes on to the Formal Operations stage, generating systematic thinking that allows the growing child (or young person) to generate possibilities and logical solutions. Consequently, you can project into the future or recall the past in problem solving, as well as reason with analogy and metaphor.

Back to kindergarten
When my youngest daughter turned two, she displayed a very social demeanor with her desire and pleasure to play with other children. Before this, his main playmate, his 4-year-old brother, was the center of his world. This noticeable change could be attributed (in part) to differences in size-strength and playing style (eg, my son was twice his size and becoming more of a “rough and tumble” oriented). However, I also recognized my daughter’s distinctive growth movement from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperative stage. For her, this meant that she was no longer interested in being her brother’s playmate-slave and was no longer content to follow him. We put other children in our neighborhood (in both sizes) and my daughter translated that experience into having friends “for him and for her.” Her newfound independence and her desire for additional playmates led me to introduce her to the idea of ​​preschool. Previously, my son and I participated in preschool playgroups; He also showed interest in peer play at around 26 months of age. However, he remained interested in playing with adults until about 40 months or 3 1/2 years. Fascinatingly, both boys’ successful “potty habits” matched their respective interests in peer play.

In my search for a safe and nurturing preschool environment, I found a private school that had special classes for every developmental level, from infant to kindergarten, with plans to begin adding a grade each year through sixth grade. Tuition was high, but it was worth the investment, as the staff were clearly dedicated to their jobs and the facilities were, in every way, kid-friendly. When I learned that the staff could bring their children for free and that the school was looking for a babysitter for the nursery, and perhaps because I was missing the childhood years that I enjoyed with my own children, I made the decision to submit a application. Within days, I found my own children happily assigned to their future age-developed classes just feet from nursery … the class where I would spend the next two years caring for five babies, ages 8-10, alone. hours a day. . (Just as an aside … this cured all my longings to “have another baby.” I later learned that the position I took had never been filled by any other staff member for over four months … and when he left the position to teach kindergarten, the school had to change the class ratio from 5 to 1, to 8 to 2, so that two staff members were available for the babies at all times).

The staff member he was replacing had to quit work suddenly, taking his own 8-month-old baby out of the program, and the disruption from the group was quite apparent (i.e. confused and / or fussy babies, all under the age of 9 months). old man, it is equal to a lot of crying! Oh!). The remaining four babies had become quite attached to their previous caregiver, transitioning with many objectionable tears, and were not at all comforted by their familiarity with one another. To give my new audio adventure even more variety, a new “student,” a 6-week-old baby, had arrived to fill the empty crib, filling my classroom and broadening the spectrum of developmental needs. My responsibilities included developing a lesson plan that incorporated individual and group playtime, feeding times, changeover times, nap times, and of course … time to write daily reports so that each child is ready for them. parents when they arrive to take his / her child home. Although the “baby-dictators” over 9 months developed a rhythm for scheduled feeding times, most of the time I worked according to their individual moods and subsequent needs. As a rule, I witnessed and recorded significant developmental achievements (eg, first words, sitting unaided, hand-eye and hand-mouth coordination tasks, standing, first steps, teeth, understanding of social patterns of caring giving as “you are next”, etc.). Although each child achieved these achievements according to their own individual disposition, they very often followed the predictable developmental timelines as described by Piaget.

While I admit that taking care of the needs of five children who before walking into a room is challenging, it turned out to be a rich experience of learning, research, and discovery. Like Piaget, I had the opportunity to study children through experiential observation, and one discovery led to the next. Furthermore, when I read the research and theories that Piaget presented to us, I see (in my mind’s eye) infants and children acquiring and processing information at various stages just as he predicted. Like some of his critics, I sometimes question Piaget’s age limitation in terms of intellectual abilities. In the lives of my own children, as well as in the lives of other children I have studied, I have noticed that children are less self-centered than he believed possible.

Children are not miniature adults, instead, they must be recognized as people who live in a period of dependency and preparation. Childhood is a time when personality structures and, very often, lifelong habits are built. Many theorists, including Piaget, believe that childhood lays the foundation for the remaining years of life. I have come to believe that the more we understand children, the more we understand ourselves. In my life, between the ages of 24 and 43, I spent a lot of time raising children and teaching children of all ages. These experiences lead me to believe that children have unique thinking and learning abilities, distinct from those of adults, and these distinctions have only just begun to be understood.

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