Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is renowned for constructing a highly influential model of child development and learning. Piaget’s theory is based on the idea that the developing child builds cognitive structures–in other words, mental “maps,” schemes, or networked concepts for understanding and responding to physical experiences within his or her environment. Piaget further attested that a child’s cognitive structure increases in sophistication with development, moving from a few innate reflexes such as crying and sucking to highly complex mental activities.


Piaget’s theory identifies four developmental stages and the processes by which children progress through them. The four stages are:

Sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years old) – The child, through physical interaction with his or her environment, builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. This is the stage where a child does not know that physical objects remain in existence even when out of sight (object permanance).

Preoperational stage (ages 2-7) – The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations.

Concrete operations (ages 7-11) – As physical experience accumulates, the child starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects.

Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15) – By this point, the child’s cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning.

Piaget outlined several principles for building cognitive structures. During all development stages, the child experiences his or her environment using whatever mental maps he or she has constructed so far. If the experience is a repeated one, it fits easily–or is assimilated–into the child’s cognitive structure so that he or she maintains mental “equilibrium.” If the experience is different or new, the child loses equilibrium, and alters his or her cognitive structure to accommodate the new conditions. This way, the child erects more and more adequate cognitive structures.

How Piaget’s Theory Impacts Learning

Curriculum – Educators must plan a developmentally appropriate curriculum that enhances their students’ logical and conceptual growth.

Instruction – Teachers must emphasize the critical role that experiences–or interactions with the surrounding environment–play in student learning. For example, instructors have to take into account the role that fundamental concepts, such as the permanence of objects, play in establishing cognitive structures. Check this if you want to learn how teachers and parents can apply Piaget’s principles.

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33 Responses to Piaget

  1. Tim says:

    Does anybody know of a list of these cognitive structures and which structures are developed at which stages of development?

  2. soekyo says:

    Jean Piaget is the founder of children psychology.He has a big impact on education curricullum.Teachers all over the world have learned a lot about the theory of Jean Piaget.

  3. Holly Werle says:

    Thank you for this information. It gives me a better understanding on my son development and the different stages as children grow , learn and play.

  4. Jadiie says:

    This information was a great help!! As im doing a childcare course at college and this information was exactlly was i needed. 🙂
    Thanks x

  5. liz says:

    can anyone tell me how piaget’s theory affects play?because im studying play in child development and have been asked to outline the theories connecting to play.

  6. Matt Brown says:

    A criticism I have on Piagets theory is its individuality. Although I learn best on my own, in my own way, but sometimes students are grouped or paired. Sometimes students can be more efficient in a certain activity if they are more socially interactive per the zone of proximal development.

  7. Thea Trefethen says:

    As a pre-k teacher, I have observed a variety of children during their preoperational stage of development. Considering Piaget’s theories while planning for their math and science experiments has lead to great success for the children in my classrooms.

  8. A Teacher of American Samoa says:

    Very intelligent, wtih the application of teachers within classrooms it is the excat way as Jean Piaget has studied. It is just a remind of me as a teacher to teach the student until they balance what they have learned and what they have experience as a great opportunity for learning as mental ability to absorb knowledge.

  9. Moses Olu Aina says:

    As a Social Worker, I now understand the reasons why two year-old children seek to be more inquisitive about their environment, but seem to be limited in their accomplishment until they grow older. Thanks to Piaget’s theory.

  10. petra says:

    i find your information about the stages really good but have one issue just that your age settings are wrong as i am resurching all about jean piaget the sensorimotor stage is birth- 18 months preoperational age is 18 months- 6 years concreate operational is 6 years- 12 years then formal operational is from 12 years on wards

  11. Sumita Naidoo says:

    This information really help me in my reserach work.
    I am working on developing tutorial program for blended learning environment where I want to apply piagets learning theory.

  12. Ken Ehimwenma says:

    I am a master’s degree student of ICT and Education. This work has made clear my uncertainty between the second stage and third stage of piaget’s theory. Welk done.

  13. joseph Durocher says:

    piaget is a very brilliant mentor. his knowledge of children is astounding ,and his information has helped me very much.

  14. Tania Clark says:

    Firstly Sumita, the information is not wrong at all, i kno this because i am studying a early childhood degree therefore if it was wrong why would EVERY book have the same ages as this website provides.

    secondly if i was doing a jigsaw with children and i wanted to link it to theory in my reflection which aspect of this would it come under. please help

  15. SD says:

    Piaget, in, fact, only established 3 stages of play. The fourth stage of play was introduced by Smilansky in 1990.

  16. Debbie Pickens says:

    Many times schools use curriculum that introduces concepts that are too abstract and just frustrate the student. (I am referring to elementary schools.) Keeping these stages in mind has helped me adapt the curriculum to make it more relevant to the age level of the student and not so overwhelming.

  17. geraldine Hightower says:

    Jean Piaget constructing a highly influential child developmentlearning. Piaget’stheory is based on ideathat developing child cognitive structures–i mentalschemes understanding,responding her environment.Piaget’s theory identifies four developmental stages.1.Sensorimotor stage (birth – 2Preoperational stage (ages 2-7) child not yet able to conceptualizea,needs Concrete operations (ages 7-11)–As physical operations (beginning atages 11-15)–By Piaget outlined7. principles. 1.Curriculum,Instruction–teachers.logical

  18. Rod Land says:

    Piaget was on the right track and was a great researcher who always kept his feet on the ground. However, he was so influential and adulated by students of education and training teachers when I was young that I got sick of them always talking about his theories! I read one text – a good summary of his research and theories (forget who by now!) and never returned to him, deciding to keep it all in the back of my mind as I was making my own observations and drawing my own conclusions from daily practice in the classroom. Having worked out constructivism for myself before the publication of the neurophysiological research of the ’70s & ’80s, I knew Piaget had been on the right track and I returned to check out his ideas briefly in the 1990s, in my sixties. Definitely one of the good guys, even tho’ old hat and quite limited in his formal scheme now in the light of constructivism.

  19. David Bekom says:

    The information on this site is invaluable.With this global focus, knowledge on a wide range of issues bothering education can be shared.
    Having read contributions from this site what will be your contribution to knowledge expansion?

  20. mitzie clarke says:

    piaget is a great child psychologist.I am a masters student at Cornerstone Christian University in Florida.I find his cognitive theories very helpful. They will help me to be successful in my exam in the near future.mitzie clarke-May7,2010.

  21. Nini says:


    i’m doing a project on Piaget and need to discuss his cognitive and physical theory on a 0- 3 month old. My project is a mobile made up of black, white and red colors.

    Any thoughts how how his theory corelates to this type of project?

  22. Thiyya says:

    I need to do a 500 word essay on any one theory that is related to physical development in children. I have considered Jean Piaget’s theory but I can’t find much information on it except for his theory on cognitive development. I need information on his theory on physical development in children. Can you please help me?

    p/s: If there is not much on Piaget’s theory, can you please suggest any other theories relating to physical development in children?

    Thanks a million.

  23. kate says:

    Im doing a 2000 word paper on inclusive play and the theories which interlock and relate into this. I find your post extremely useful, thank you

  24. heather says:

    hi doing an essay on play in a multi-cultral eal setting have found Piaget very helpful but any ideas on anyone i can use for the bilingual/ cultral side?