The principles of the cognitive development theory describe and classify a growing child’s system of knowledge and systematically places defined schemas into developmental stages. Piaget found that the way individuals process knowledge changes. He asserted that for a child to know and construct knowledge of the world, he or she must act on objects, and it is this action which provides knowledge of those objects (Sigel, 1977). For the child to process knowledge, however, he or she must be cognitively ready to receive and process new information. Validation is found within readiness approaches in developmental psychology, which emphasize that children cannot learn something until maturation provides them certain prerequisites (Brainerd, 1978). Therefore, a child’s ability to learn is related to their stage of cognitive development. The stages of development are also associated with certain age groups.
The active role of the child is important and assists the acquisition of new knowledge. As the child grows cognitively and acquires knowledge, he or she moves on to the next stage. Piaget explained that the acquisition of knowledge is qualitatively in identifiable stages (Kolb, 1983). Individuals move from within four stages of learning which are scaffolded and begin with the child’s birth. The sensory motor stage ranges from birth to age two. In this stage, knowledge is represented in concrete actions and is not separable from the experience. When the child begins to talk, they move to the preoperational stage. While in this stage, the child’s knowledge is represented in images that have an increasingly autonomous status from the experiences they represent. From first grade to early adolescence, the child develops the ability to think abstractly and make judgments related to experiences. The final stage covers the years when the adolescent child is already capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning. Piaget believed that as the child progresses through the stages at their own pace, it allows them to individualize the progression.
The progression of each child has social implications that teachers and school administrators must recognize. Each child’s development and progression through the stages of cognitive development is unique. Currently, schools must view that children are social beings who do not develop in cognitive isolation from others (Taylor, 1996). Teachers should be encouraged to provide a rich environment in which to guide students. Similar to Dewey and Lewin’s approaches, Piaget’s model is a direct shift in the social view that teachers must be the authority who presents information in the form of lectures, demonstrations, and presentations.