Jean Piaget: Cognitive Development in the Classroom


learning theory

Every experience and interaction has an impact on development in early childhood. Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget recognized this when he studied and researched his own theories of cognitive development.

Some of his research led to the belief that every interaction establishes cognitive structure in children. This is especially important in the classroom environment.

Jean Piaget’s theories impact learning in many different ways, but keeping in mind the curriculum you are teaching, as well as how you are teaching it, directly applies to the essentials of child development. For the stages of child development and the primary influential factors, visit this Funderstanding article.

Observation and Education

Jean Piaget developed his methods of understanding children by directly observing them while they were working. Many of his thoughts have led to increased educational theory.

He also analyzed behavior.

“His particular insight was the role of maturation (simply growing up) in children’s increasing capacity to understand their world: they cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so,” according to Learning and Teaching Information.

Jean Piaget made note of certain stages of development that allowed children to learn better.

“He saw these transitions as taking place at about 18 months, 7 years and 11 or 12 years. This has been taken to mean that before these ages children are not capable (no matter how bright) of understanding things in certain ways,” Learning and Teaching Information said.

Structured Development

Jean Piaget’s theories of development centered on structure. The concept of structure introduced four stages of development, according to Teacher Education:

  1. Sensorimotor stage -  0-2 years: imitation, memory and thought begin to be utilized
  2. Preoperational stage- 2-7 years: language development and recognizing symbolic form
  3. Concrete operational stage- 7-11 years: able to solve hands-on problems logically
  4. Formal operational stage- 11-15 years : able to solve abstract problems in a logical fashion

Applying Jean Piaget in the Classroom

To apply Jean Piaget’s theories in the classroom, the University of Arkansas suggests these six steps to structure preoperational development:

1. Use concrete props and visual aids whenever possible.

2. Make instructions relatively short, using actions as well as words.

3. Do not expect the students to consistently see the world from someone else’s point of view.

4. Be sensitive to the possibility that students may have different meanings for the same word or different words for the same meaning. Students may also expect everyone to understand words they have invented.

5. Give children a great deal of hands-on practice with the skills that serve as building blocks for more complex skills like reading comprehension.

6. Provide a wide range of experiences in order to build a foundation for concept learning and language.

More on Jean Piaget

To learn more about Jean Piaget’s work, check out this Funderstanding page.


About the author -

Kelly McLendon

Kelly McLendon is studying Environmental Policy and Journalism. She can be reached via email


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