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‍Sensorimotor Period (birth to 2 years)

The sensorimotor stage was derived in the 1930s AFTER Piaget had conducted clinical interviews with hundreds of children who could speak to him and attempt to detail their thoughts verbally. Piaget devoted this stage of his research to the observation of his three children (born 1925, 1927, and 1931). This paved the way for a new focus on the relations between the subject and those objects in the immediate environment of the child which placed the emphasis on the actions taken toward those objects.

There are actually six stages within this single stage of development. They are as follows:
  1. Modification of Reflexes (birth to 1 month): These are the suckling, grasping, knee-jerking reactive functions that infants essentially exit the womb with. These behaviors are typically quickly reinforced to provide food when hungry, grab things in the environment, and pull away from potentially threatening sensations.
  2. Primary Circular Reactions (1 month to 4 months): widespread and rapid building of the schemes established from the modification of reflexes. Due to reinforcement, behavior becomes circular in that infants want to achieve a desired end and have learned what behavior accomplishes this and repeat it over and again. In this stage, those behaviors are centered around the infant's body (i.e. thumbsucking)
  3. Secondary Circular Reactions (4 months to 8 months): These circular behaviors relate the child to their environment such as shaking a rattle, controlling a mobile with a string attached to their foot, and other instances of "motor recognition," understanding that they can grab objects and do something with them. However up to this point, any reward for performing behaviors has been fortuitously habitual.
  4. Coordination of Secondary Schemes (8 to 12 months): Planning and intentionality emerge in the infant's schema in that they are able to connect means to their ends. They are able to remove barriers and achieve intended goals, remembering which behaviors meet which goals.
  5. Tertiary Circular Reactions (12 to 18 months): This is where Piaget's term "infant scientist" emerges as they begin to see the world as their laboratory. They question their environment and run experiments to understand the potential of each object in their environment. Can I shake the rattle and also put it in my mouth? Can I pull on the blanket to get Mr. Frog close enough to grab him?
  6. Invention of New Means Through Mental Combinations (18 to 24 months): This is the transition into the preoperational period as children discover they can think covertly without acting on their thoughts. External physical exploration gives way to internal mental exploration. Children are now able to forgo trial and error and connect schemas in a fashion that solves some problems initially.

A "logic of action" is born through the infants actions toward objects in their environment. In this process, the child is forming the Piagetian idea of a schema which is much more narrow in comparison to what traditionally we think of as a schema. An idea of the self is developed and heavily relied upon as law. Placed into the context of the environment which contains other humans and animals, inanimate objects, etc., the child's schema is constantly being challenged, shifted, and ultimately updated with the new knowledge that comes from existing every day. A dog is something furry and small with four legs, therefore everything furry and small with four legs is a dog, right? Clearly this type of logic is challenged when even a different size dog or other animal is encountered. Dad has a a beard? Oh so every man with a beard is Dad, got it...

The manner in which the child in the sensorimotor stage expresses the challenges they encounter is by crying, looking shocked or stunned, or becoming more intrigued by the stimulus. The stimulus is then filed away in the proper schema (to them) for the time being, until it is challenged and conformed once again. Once the child is beginning to develop into preoperational functioning, they may begin to verbally express the challenges they encounter hoping to make sense of it all. This gives way to the ever important development of language.

Sensorimotor functions
  • A child actively learns about properties of objects and relations among them
  • Cognitive structures become more tightly organized
  • Behavior gradually becomes more intentional
  • The self is gradually differentiated from the environment
  • They move from simple reflexes through several steps to an organized set of schemes (organized sensorimotor behaviors)



Preoperational Period (age 2 to 7 years)
It took research conducted with a team of French mathematicians and extensive experimentation on logical, mathematical, and scientific thinking to grind out the next two stages of development. Emerging just after the Second World War, he found that the transition into the preoperational period began with the ability to understand groups, taxonomies, and their relations between each other, but not quite the grand scheme. This made possible the education concerning numbers and the alphabet, traditional addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Understanding part-whole relations begins at this stage and the ideas of class inclusion and conservation (see terminology) begin to take form, but not solidify.
  • Egocentrism or the incomplete differentiation of the self and the world, including other people and the tendency to perceive, understand, and interpret the world in terms of the self.
  • Rigidity of thought: the inability for the child to mentally reverse a series of events and literally believe everything they see
  • Semilogical reasoning
  • Limited social cognition
  • No longer do children simply make perceptual and motor adjustments to objects and events
  • They can now use symbols (mental images, words, gestures) to represent these objects and events
  • They use these symbols in an increasingly organized and logical fashion



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Concrete Operational Period (age 7 to 11 years)
Children in this stage can only solve problems that apply to actual (concrete) objects or events, and not abstract concepts or hypothetical tasks. Advanced problem solving emerges and the logical functioning that began in the preoperational period is a mainstay that continues to be built upon. Those logical functions that surfaced previously are now beginning to be applied in the mental arena. Those physical laws are being tested in the mind and the following are outcomes during this stage:

Seriation — the ability to sort objects in an order according to size, shape, or any other characteristic. For example, if given different-shaded objects they may make a color gradient.

Transitivity — The ability to recognize logical relationships among elements in a serial order, and perform 'transitive inferences' (for example, If A is taller than B, and B is taller than C, then A must be taller than C).

Classification —t he ability to name and identify sets of objects according to appearance, size or other characteristic, including the idea that one set of objects can include another.

Decentering — where the child takes into account multiple aspects of a problem to solve it. For example, the child will no longer perceive an exceptionally wide but short cup to contain less than a normally-wide, taller cup.

Reversibility — the child understands that numbers or objects can be changed, then returned to their original state. For this reason, a child will be able to rapidly determine that if 4+4 equals t, t−4 will equal 4, the original quantity.

Conservation — understanding that quantity, length or number of items is unrelated to the arrangement or appearance of the object or items.

Elimination of Egocentrism — the ability to view things from another's perspective (even if they think incorrectly). For instance, show a child a comic in which Jane puts a doll under a box, leaves the room, and then Melissa moves the doll to a drawer, and Jane comes back. A child in the concrete operations stage will say that Jane will still think it's under the box even though the child knows it is in the drawer.
  • Regulations, functions, and identities become operations in that they become more complete, differentiated, quantitative, and stable
  • Class inclusion - understanding that subcategories are part of a broader category
  • Temporal-spatial representations - accurately relating time and space in objects using context
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Formal Operational Period (age 11 to 15)
This final stage continues into adulthood as children learn how to master their logical functioning and also verbally explicate their rational thinking behavior. Employing intentional logic and the understanding of hypothetical circumstances predominate this development. Observable and non-observable coordination between objects and actions are distinguished and consciously and unconsciously solved in the effort to obtain equilibrium between what is known, perceived and, experienced.
  • A step further than concrete operations in that the child is able to form hypotheses
  • The ability to problem solve using the connections they have made
Conscious and intentional imagination in that children who are formally operational can intentionally connect concepts that otherwise would not make rational or physical sense
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Conservation?!




How to Use Your Brain - Conservation


Demonstration of Object Permanence during Sensorimotor Stage
There it is!!