Jean Piaget’s Approach and Theory of Cognitive Development


A well-known Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, is mostly famous for his multiple innovative theories and ideas on the development of cognitive functions of children in the process of growing. He was one of the founders of a new system of early education because his studies helped psychology scientists understand how the brain of an underage person is being developed. Therefore, the cognitive development theory showed the most influential tactics and approaches that a teacher or a counselor had to use to achieve better results. In the works of Jean Piaget, one can learn high-quality analysis of the infant and adolescent psyche and come to the right conclusions about effective ways of learning that are suitable for particular age groups. Indeed, the idea that each stage of development requires a proper and unique approach in order to increase the neural and mental capabilities of a person was also established by the Swiss psychologist.

Additionally, Jean Piaget’s scientific studies inspired various other scientists from rather different fields to look at the problem of child education and development in a new, innovative way. Thus, it is quite difficult to exaggerate the achievements and contributions of this scientist because he influenced a completely new vision of studying children’s mental and physical abilities. Moreover, Jean Piaget was one of the first researchers who refused to agree that the structure of the child’s organism is just an undeveloped version of an adult one. He perpetuated the idea that the brain of an underage person has unique features and intricacies that deserve an individual approach. In this essay, it is significant to emphasize the main ideas of the psychologist’s cognitive development theory and high/scope approach. It is highly likely that the researcher managed to discover multiple crucial characteristics of the cognitive abilities of children’s psyche, which led him to improve the educational learning strategies for centuries ahead.

High/Scope Approach

To begin with, Jean Piaget is rather critically approved for his famous High/Scope approach, which initially is described by the idea that, at a very gentle age, children are prone to assimilate information better if the process of learning happens intentionally. The process of playing, planning, and reviewing informative resources is much effective in comparison to a simple lecture when a child cannot be involved. Underage learners can get excited and actually recall the information a teacher is trying to convey if they are the ones who control the process of learning (Mesquita, 2016). This important innovation allows people to understand that the learning process has to be illustrative, interactive, and quite indirect so that children can decipher the information. Jean Piaget’s approach tells teachers that children have to initiate the process of learning and be the ones in charge of recalling the information afterward for long-lasting influential results.

At the same time, the role of adult teachers, according to the High/Scope approach by Jean Piaget, is to observe, support, and develop the children’s imaginative games. New ideas, therefore, should be introduced to young learners by affectionate adults through small and large-group engaging activities (Mesquita, 2016). It is the adults’ place to arrange various subjects that are of interest to children. Moreover, maintaining a well-adjusted routine plays a big role in forming cognitive connections in the students’ brains – adults should not judge but expand existing knowledge of children. They can achieve a healthy learning atmosphere by adding complex language to the children’s initial discussion to enrichen their imagination, form crucial skills, and expand their vocabulary. The psychology scholars approve of these methods (Novo, 2018) as they help children socialize and learn from an early age particular skills that can help students learn on their own. This experimental learning allows children to engage in activities that are entertaining and educational at the same time. In the sphere of psychology, Jean Piaget’s method is described as progressive action and construction that leads to the creation of independent ideas, views, and beliefs.

Basics of Cognitive Development Theory

Undoubtedly, modern psychology scholars find Jean Piaget’s contribution to the research of cognitive characteristics of a child’s brain and psyche to be rather influential. Summarizing the main points of the Swiss psychologist’s work, back in the twentieth century, he suggested that young infants process life through assimilation and accommodation (Malik et al., 2021). The described idea made the psychology community fully aware of the complexities and variations of the cognitive structures of children’s mental abilities. Moreover, the famous scholar was rather interested in investigating the process of the construction of intellectual structures among underage people while their social and physiological image was still developing. The High/Scope approach that was mentioned before helped Jean Piaget find proper ways of implying his discoveries so the cognitive development in children can become the most effective and ethical.

Further, the psychologist’s emphasis on the cognition of children is explained that adult intellectual and mental structures can be clearly understood by their linkage to the earlier stages of development via socialization and education. His conviction of the sequence of developmental stages was proven and approved by multiple future scholars (such as F. Malik and R. Marwaha, et cetera). Remarkably, Jean Piaget divided two main concepts of his theories: the overall development of mental functions and the nervous system and the learning aspect (1964). He called the knowledge to be the phenomenon that is wider and more general as this term can be applied to any thought processes and neural connections in the brain. However, learning, his second concept, is a more specific and distinct problem that can be provoked with some didactic intention by a teacher or a psychological experimenter.

Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

To be particular, Jean Piaget’s works are well-known for an innovative division of the children’s stages of cognitive development. This theoretical modernization allowed scientists to have a better understanding of the intricacies of the neurological and psychological growth of the young generation. The Swiss scholar distinguished four main stages of the children’s development: a sensory-motor, a pre-operational, a concrete operational, and formal operational stages (Piaget, 1964). Hence, it is significant to have a deeper analysis of this artificial division.

The first stage is described as a pre-verbal stage that characterizes approximately the first two years of a child’s life. This period includes the development of practical knowledge, which happens during the earliest socialization and brain construction (Piaget, 1964). At this period, education is connected with a close connection to the child’s parents: a person is learning how to convey emotions, eat, stand up, sleep, et cetera. A child is in the process of learning the most basic human skills that are fundamental for any creature.

The stage that goes next, according to Jean Piaget, is called the pre-operational stage, which happens from two to seven years of a child. In this period of time, the beginnings of language, the expression of thoughts and ideas are being constructed. Another crucial detail is that a reconstruction of everything that was developed on the sensory-motor level occurs in the pre-occupational stage (Piaget, 1964). The neural connections become more complicated and complex; nevertheless, there are still no proper operations.

The third level is defined as a concrete operational stage and usually occurs from the age of seven to eleven. Jean Piaget calls the operations that are just being formed concrete because they are connected with objects and not on verbally expressed concepts or phenomena. To be exact, the are various examples of such operations, for instance, the operations on numbers, letters, and symbols, simple mathematical, geometrical, and physical operations, operations on logic, spatial and temporal operations, and so on.

In the final level of a child’s cognitive development, Jean Piaget distinguishes the hypothetic-deductive operations that are much more abstract and complicated compared to the previous level. This stage can be applied to a twelve-year-old person and older because usually teenagers are the ones who can think freely, explain difficult verbally expressed hypotheses that are unreachable for a younger child. The fundamentally new operations that a teenager can construct are defined as propositional logic.


To conclude, the Swiss psychological researcher Jean Piaget achieved a much better understanding of the intricacies of children’s cognitive and neural structures, in general. Moreover, the scholar managed to create an innovative and highly popular educational system that put education in a new perspective. He discovered the innovative factors of efficient and non-stressful learning atmosphere with the help of his cognitive development theory that was later applied by the High/Scope approach. Furthermore, the researcher was praised for his precise division of the psychological stages of a child’s development that emphasized the cognitive growth of a human being. Thus, these modernizations allowed the psychologist to improve the learning methods for children on a deeper level as well as alter the approach for understanding the children’s psyche.


Malik, F., & Marwaha, R. (2021). Cognitive development. StatPearls.

Mesquita, C. (2016). High scope approach: learning through action. A Handbook on experiential education: pedagogical guidelines for teachers and parents, 65-69.

Novo, R. (2018). The Jean Piaget’s Perspective. A handbook on experimential education: pedagogical guidelines for teachers and parents, 44-46.

Piaget, J. (1964). Part I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of research in science teaching, 2(3), 176-186.

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PsychologyWriting. "Jean Piaget’s Approach and Theory of Cognitive Development." September 22, 2023.