Aims | The Child | Task of teaching | First steps to integration
- Child   development   and learning
- Piaget
- Vigotsky
- Erikson
- Self-  regulated   learning
- In closing
- References

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The child: psychological and pedagogical considerations



The Piagetian perspective


Perhaps the most influential body of work regarding how intellectual development occurs is that of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget’s (1952) work was primarily in the area of cognition; he paid little attention to children’s emotions or motivations. The central theme is an evolving “intelligence” or “logic” that takes different forms as development proceeds. It is a stage theory of development. A stage implies an inner consistency and harmony among all cognitive functions at a given level of development. It also implies discontinuity, that is , each successive stage is qualitatively distinct from the one that went before it, even though the transition from one stage to another may build on and incorporate elements from the earlier stage.


Piaget divides cognitive development into four distinct stages: the sensory-motor stage (from birth to two years), the pre-operational stage (from two to six or seven), the stage of concrete operations (from six or seven to about eleven), and the stage of formal operations (from about age twelve on). The chief characteristic of the sensory-motor stage is that the child has only a limited capacity to represent and comprehend knowledge about the world and thus to think. However, the child learns about the environment by constant activity, exploration, and manipulation. Children gradually learn about object permanence that is the continued existence of an object that goes out of sight. During the second stage, the pre-operational, the child forms inner representations of the world - symbolic play, images, language, and drawing - and can act on them, as in making believe. In the stage of concrete operation, the child is now capable of a limited number of logical processes, especially when he or she is given concrete materials to manipulate, such as blocks for sorting. Their understanding is still dependent on concrete experience of events and objects, rather than on abstract or hypothetical ideas. From age twelve on, people are said to be in the stage of formal operations, with the ability to reason logically, and to formulate and test abstract hypotheses.


Piaget’s general mechanism for the formation of knowledge is equilibration, the resolution of cognitive imbalance by a new balanced organization at a higher level. Equilibration involves two processes - assimilation and accommodation. As children develop, they integrate various schemata into organized, inclusive patterns of knowledge, which eventually form a coherent vision of self and world.


Piaget regards development as an interaction between physical maturation (organization changes in anatomy and physiology) and experience. Through these experiences, children construct knowledge and understanding – hence, the concept of constructivism and the paradigm for constructivist pedagogy and curricula. In this approach, curriculum starts with the interests of the learner, building new information and experiences on the learner’s prior knowledge and experience. It capitalizes on the child’s immediate curiosity and initiative. As Kamii (1990) emphasises, when curiosity and initiative are present we know that mental activity is taking place.


Piaget’s theory places action and self-directed problem-solving at the heart of learning and development. By acting on the world, the learner comes to discover how to control it.

Piagetian theory has come under increasing criticism in recent years, particularly for its view of stages and egocentrism, its emphasis on children’s incompetence, and its inattention to cultural and social aspects (Graue and Walsh, 1998). Donaldson (1978) showed convincingly that Piaget underestimated children’s cognitive abilities across a number of domains. As many post-Piagetian researchers have shown, children are much more cognitively competent than had been supposed. The current understanding, within the framework of social-cognitive theory, is that gender behaviour results from the interaction between the environment and the child’s social knowledge and the development of the cognitive structures. During their individual development, children learn at first through an external regulation process, followed by a process of self-regulation.