This paper is basically about Piaget`s cognitive development theory. The first part of the paper is a summary of the main tenets of Piaget`s Cognitive Developmental Stages. Here, I wish to call attention to the fact that although there are many who question the validity of Piaget`s theory, we still learned many things about Piaget`s ideas about the child’s mind. The first part would convince us- and almost everyone else – that the mind of the child is not that of a miniature adult. That a child’s learning progress from the sensorimotor simplicity of the infant to more complex stages of thinking goes through generally an orderly sequence, that is from one stage being built upon the previous stage.
But the complexity of Piaget`s theory is such that there is no way that this short research paper can do it justice. The purpose of this paper is just to discuss the basic elements of the theory and to cite some researches that support its validity as applied to playing and learning of a preschool child in school.
The second part of the paper is the applied portion of this paper. Here, some researches about the effects of play on the cognitive development of preschool children are presented. These researchers supported well the central importance of play in young children’s healthy cognitive development. One study is conducted in Germany at a time when many kindergartens are sharpened through play that encourages problem solving and demonstrates cause and effect. Another study reported in a newspaper in Ypsilanti, Michigan on the benefits of play-oriented preschool programs is also examined.
Thus, this paper basically points out that Piaget`s theory strongly supports the positive relationship between play and cognitive development in preschool children. And that play plays a major function in the cognitive development of these young children.
Socioculture, Learning and Playing of a preschool child in school
A central question in developmental psychology is how children acquire knowledge about the nature and workings of the world- how they think, reason, and solve problems. The most influential theory of intellectual development is that of Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980). Piaget`s ideas have dominated the study of cognitive development for several decades. Although some aspects of Piaget`s theory have been challenged, modified, and expanded, the basic theory remains intact.
Piaget postulates the existence of cognitive structures that are the organizational properties of intelligence. And “cognitive development is a coherent process of successive qualitative changes of cognitive structures (schemata), each structure and its concomitant change deriving logically and inevitably from the preceding one. Successive schemata do not replace prior ones; they incorporate them, resulting in a qualitative change” (Huitt & Hummel, 2003).
One of Piaget`s basic ideas is that people acquire knowledge by interacting with the world. According to Piaget, a child does not learn that a toy is different from a blanket by passively inspecting them. The child learns that they are different by interacting with them – by grasping them. Mouthing them, banging on them, as well as looking at them. Through these actions, the child constructs schemes about the world. A scheme is structured piece of knowledge, or concept, about a physical or mental interaction with the world. For a child, a scheme may be all the preoperational knowledge about forming mental representations of objects, people, and events. For an adult, a scheme may be all of the sensorimotor and mental knowledge about driving a car or adopting a particular social role.
Moreover, Piaget`s theory believed that two processes go on as schemes are constructed. These processes are assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when people incorporate a new object or event into an existing scheme. Accommodation occurs when people modify a scheme to include the new object or event. For example, suppose that a child has an object scheme that involves all of her sensorimotor experience of grasping her blanket. When she is first presented with a ball, the child tries to grasp it and assimilate the ball into the scheme of objects. But the ball feels different from a blanket, and her usual grasping movements do not work on the ball. Therefore, the child accommodates her object scheme to include the sensorimotor experience of the ball. You can see that assimilation and accommodation are interactive; Piaget believed that both are involved in the acquisition of all new knowledge throughout life.
Piaget does not contend that individuals move from one discrete stage to another discrete stage, but rather that the development is more of a flowing. The stages themselves are somewhat arbitrarily located; sometimes the number of divisions ranges from three to about six major stages. Cognitive development proceeds in a cumulative fashion with one stage being built upon the previous stage. No one can move to a higher stage without first without having gone through the immediate lower stage. The order of progression is invariant. Individuals may vary somewhat in age as they proceed through the stages since the age spans suggested by Piaget are normative and suggestive of the time during which most individuals can be expected to show behavior characteristic of the given stage. Piaget (1973) himself indicated that any person may be a year or so beyond or behind the average capabilities reached by most children of his or her own age group. It is also possible for a person who moves through the stages more slowly than the norm group to go further in the long run (Piaget, 1973).
Piaget (1961) indicates that there are four factors related to all cognitive development. These are (1) maturation (neurological and endocrinological), (2) physical experience (interaction between the individual and objects in the environment), (3) social interaction (interchange of ideas), and (4) equilibration (an internal self-regulating system that integrates effects of maturation, experience, and social interaction).
Piaget (1963) summarizes four stages of cognitive development as follows:
1. The period of sensorimotor intelligence (0-2 years). During this period, behavior is mostly motoric since the child cannot conceptualize.
2. The period of preoperational thought (2-7 years). The development of language and rapid conceptual development characterize this period.
3. The period of concrete operations (7-11 years). Within this period the ability to apply logical thought to concrete problems is developed.
4. The period of formal operations (11-15 years). Cognitive structures reach their highest level of development and the individual can apply logic to all classes of problems.
Piaget (1971, 1983) proposed that these intellectual development stages have a number of important features: (1) Changes that occur from stage to stage are qualitative, not simply quantitative. According to Piaget, the whole way a child thinks during one stage of development is different from the way he or she thinks during another stage. Furthermore, the new thinking capacities apply to a wide range of activities. (2) The changes that occur from one stage to the next are relatively abrupt rather than gradual. (3) The order in which the stages occur is the same for all children. Different children may spend more or less time in a particular developmental stage, but all children progress through the same sequence.
As again, although Piaget`s theory has been challenged, it is already clear that Piaget`s insightful descriptions of children’s behavior have had a profound influence on our understanding of intellectual development. Most Psychologists agree that cognitive development depends on maturation as well as on a child’s interactions with the world. In addition, most psychologists agree with Piaget`s basic descriptions of children’s intellectual abilities and the general sequence in which they develop. Whether all aspects of Piaget`s theory ultimately prove to be correct can be determined only by further research.
Piaget has thus far provided us in the intellectual/cognitive area. Flavell (1963) made the following judgment of Piaget`s model:
“Piaget`s system is by far the richest repository of theory and data on intellectual development that is or ever has been available in the field of child psychology. It includes the first and so far the only really detailed stage –analysis of intellectual development in existence. And he has supplied more concrete information about intellectual behavior at various levels of development than any single worker (indeed, for many areas of cognition, more than all others taken together).”
Piaget`s theory suggests that there is a strong relationship between play and cognitive development. He further stated that cognitive developments are sharpened through play that encourages problem solving and demonstrates cause and effect. Children learn about shapes, colors, sizes and other concepts through play. Language blossoms as a child interacts with others and uses words for favorite playthings and activities. A number of studies indicate a positive relationship between play and student learning (Moore, 1987). They identify improvements to attention, planning skills, and attitudes, creativity and divergent thinking, perspective-taking, memory, and language development.
Hence, in general, the benefits of play for the cognitive development of the child are the following: better verbalization, richer vocabulary, higher language comprehension, higher language level, better problem-solving strategies, more curiosity, better ability to take on the perspective of another, higher intellectual competence, better peer cooperation, reduced aggression and more group activity.
The central importance of play in young children’s healthy development is well supported by decades of research. Specifically, a study conducted in the 1980s in Germany, at a time when many kindergartens are sharpened through play that encourages problem solving and demonstrates cause and effect. Children learn about shapes, colors, sizes and other concepts through play. Language blossoms as a child interacts with others and uses words for favorite playthings and activities were being transformed into academic rather than play-oriented environments, bears out the relationship between preschool play and elementary school success.
The study compared 50 play-oriented kindergartens with 50 academically oriented ones. The children were followed until fourth grade, at which point the children from the play-oriented kindergartens excelled over the others in every area measured – physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. The results were especially striking among lower-income children, who clearly benefited from the play-oriented approach. The overall results were so compelling that Germany switched all its kindergartens back to being play-oriented. They have continued in this mode until the present time.
Another study on the benefits of play-oriented preschool programs was published in a newspaper; a series of studies was examined in early childhood programs in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The study have shown that those who had attended play-oriented programs where child-initiated activities predominated did better academically than those who had attended academic-oriented
As a conclusion, playing and learning is very important to children’s cognitive development, as children are not machines. You cannot simply add more fuel and speed them up. They are governed by internal processes that are sometimes called the laws of child development as presented by Piaget. Decades of compelling research have shown that without play, children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development is compromised. If schools do not invest in play, they will find themselves investing much more in prisons and hospitals, as the incidence of physical, and mental illness, as well as aggressive and violent behavior escalates. It is not too late, however, for preschools to reestablish play in children’s lives as each child need play and more so, they have the right to play.