Jean Piaget was a Swiss philosopher and biologist born in the late 19th century. Piaget's Development Theory outlines how children think and learn at different ages. Using Piaget's theory in the classroom allows educators to customise the lessons to best fit Piaget's ideas for that specific age group.
Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development describes four stages of child development based on their age. In the "sensorimotor stage," lasting until two years old, children begin understanding themselves and differentiating between themselves and the outside world and environment through interaction. At this stage, children learn to differentiate themselves from outside objects. Between the ages of two and seven, the theory states children are in the "preoperational stage," where they can't quite grasp abstract concepts but begin classifying objects simplistically. Stage three, "concrete operations," lasts from ages seven to 11. This is where abstract thought enters into learning and the child begins to conceptualise and give structure to his physical world and experiences. Lastly, the "formal operations" stage lasts from 11 to 15. In this stage, the student understands and uses deductive reasoning and hypothetical information, closely mirroring the cognitive development of adults.
Between the ages of four and seven, children typically begin schooling while in the preoperational stage. Children in this stage learn best through physical methods so classroom activities may include field trips, projects and the manipulation of physical objects. For instance, a child learning the basics of addition may find it easier to learn with physical blocks they can add or subtract from the group as opposed to simple written instruction or examples.
Between the ages of seven and 11, Piaget's theory dictates that students begin understanding abstract concepts, meaning they won't need as much physical stimulation to learn. Classroom activities should use creativity to promote abstract and conceptualised thought. Puzzles and riddles are also well-suited for this stage, as are class-wide discussions and activities that promote a deeper understanding of the concepts behind what they've learnt so far in school.
The formal operations stage lasts into high school and provides Piaget's final developmental stage before adulthood. Classroom activities at this stage include reasoning exercises, debates and the dissection of literature or media to understand the underlying messages and concepts. Students at this level can learn through a wide variety of methods and activities that promote critical and hypothetical thought and deductive reasoning.
While Piaget's theory provides a basic map for childhood cognitive development, not a set-in-stone guide. The age a specific child enters and leaves each stage depends largely on her environment and the quality of her education. This theory doesn't take individual students or learning styles into account, which makes it difficult to beneficially apply to every student in the same way.