This module is for Topic 2

Topic 2 - Understanding How Children Think

Cognitive development refers to the way a person's thinking changes over time. Jean Piaget was one of the first theorists to point out that children's thinking is not the same as adult thinking. Piaget is one of the most influential theorists in this domain. He proposed four distinct, universal stages in which children's thinking develops and each stage builds on the previous one.

Directions: Review the following chart for an overview of Piaget's theory of cognitive development. questions.

Birth to 2 years


  • Active learning occurs through the use of the senses and motor abilities.
  • Children have not yet learned to use conceptual or reflective thought.
  • During this stage children learn the concept of object permanence.
2 to 6 years


  • Emergence of symbolic thinking and imaginative play.
  • Children have not yet learned to recognize the perspectives of others. In other words, they still see the world from an egotistical point of view.
  • During this stage children learn to use language to understand the world around them.
Concrete Operational
6 to 11 years

Concrete Operational

  • Emergence of rational thinking and the use of logic to understand world.
  • Children have not yet learned to apply logic to situations beyond their personal experiences.
  • During this stage children use logic to solve mathematical problems and understand basic scientific principles.
Formal Operational
12 years through adulthood

Formal Operational

  • Emergence of abstract and analytical thinking.
  • Growing interest in social and moral issues.
  • During this stage children use logic and their own life experiences to grasp complex theoretical issues.

Video: Listen to the Experts

Piaget's work has had a lasting influence on our understanding of child development. What makes his theories so important to the field? Watch this "Listen to the Experts" video to learn more.

As you watch the video, think about the following questions:

  1. How do children think differently than adults?
  2. How can you apply this knowledge in your work with children?
Welcome to Module video