product designer


Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been really indecisive when it comes to what direction I want to go in. While I find the idea of creating something sustainable for children very interesting, I am also drawn to the topic of urban farming and sustainment of food. This got me thinking, what if I combine the two to create an educational product that would teach children the basis of growing their own food?

When discussing my idea of designing something for children, it was suggested that if I am to design for children- it would be beneficial to study the theory behind child development. I decided to go to the library and read up psychologist Jean Piaget’s famous ‘Theory of Cognitive Development’.

According to Piaget, children progress through a series of four critical stages of cognitive development. Each stage is marked by shifts in how children understand the world. Interestingly, Piaget believed that children are like “little scientists” and that they actively try to explore and make sense of the world around them.

Through his observations of children, Piaget defined these developments in four stages:

The sensorimotor stage (Birth to age 2)

During this stage, infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. At this point in development, a child’s intelligence consists of their basic motor and sensory explorations of the world. Piaget believed that developing object permanence or object constancy (the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen), was an important element at this point of development. By learning that objects are separate and distinct entities and that they have an existence of their own outside of individual perception, children are then able to begin to attach names and words to objects.

The preoperational stage (Age 2 to approximately age 7)

At this point of development, children learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and accepting the point of view of other people. Often, they also struggle with understanding the ideal of constancy. For example, a researcher could pour the same measurement of water into two glasses, except one glass is tall and thin and the other is small and wide. Although measuring the same- they look different, and if asked which glass had more water in it, the child would pick the glass that appeared bigger.

The concrete operational stage (Age 7 to 11)

At this stage, children begin to think more logically, although their thinking can also be very rigid. They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts. At this point, children become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel. They also begin to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and not everyone else necessarily shares these thoughts, feelings and opinions.

The formal operational stages (Adolescence to adulthood)

The final stage of Piaget’s theory involves an increase in logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas. At this point, people become capable of seeing the multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them.

Although, Piaget did not view children’s intellectual development as a quantitative process; meaning children don’t just add more information and knowledge to their existing knowledge as they get older. Instead, he believed in a qualitative change in how children think as they progress through these four stages.

While I remain in two minds about what direction my project is going to take, I will continue to explore the theories behind child development. Reading up on these stages has been beneficial in making me think and question myself- who am I designing for?

Rebecca Williamson