The Theories of Jean Piaget

Initially a biologist, Jean Piaget moved on to study the workings of children's minds, drawing up several theories along the way. His works have had a large influence on the viewpoint of society on the workings of the young brain - even if some of them are viewed as controversial. In this article, we take a look at the most important elements of the famous works of Piaget, looking at the foundations upon which he built his ideas.

Perhaps Piaget's most insightful thought was that children cannot learn everything straight away. Sometimes, there is no other way of getting the idea across than waiting for them to mature, so that their brains are old enough to absorb and understand the information.

He looked at the ages where substantial changes in the mechanism of a child's mind occurred, enabling young people to do things that were impossible beforehand. He identified 18 months, 7 years and 11 years as the points in one's young life where these transformations typically happen, although some variation was evident.

Piaget insisted that these age boundaries should be used as a guide for the curriculum; he thought of it as a waste of time teaching a child something that they are simply incapable of learning because of their age. He based all of these philosophies on some important ideas that he concluded from observing child's behavior.

One of his better-known ideas was the concept of adaptation: the ability to adjust to the world and its surroundings. He believed that this is needed before certain things can be understood. He also discussed the idea of egocentrism, based upon the belief that children feel as if they are the center of the universe. This, however, should not be described as 'selfish' behavior, but rather a stage that all young people progress through as they acquire more knowledge about the workings of the world, the people who live in it, and their own role as a human being.

Using his ideas and knowledge of cognitive processes, Piaget determined that humans start off with minimal awareness. By the time they reach their second birthday, they should have started to act intentionally. They may say 'mama' for their mother's attention, for instance, or else associate feeling hungry with eating food or drinking milk. By this point, they should also be able to walk and talk to an extent - something which will become subconscious with months of practice.

After this point and up until the age of seven, young people still struggle comprehending other's opinions and ideas - a clear demonstration of egocentrism, according to Piaget. As they reach 11 or 12, they will have developed a more concrete logical understanding of others and the world around them. He assumed they will start to take their future into consideration at this stage - rather than thinking only about the here and now, which is often the case for young children.

Despite the success of Piaget's theories, some people question the truth behind them. Critics claim that the age boundaries are too concrete - many children reach stages a lot earlier or later than Piaget said was 'conventional'. To say that his ideas are recognized decades later, though, suggests that there is some truth behind the developmental philosophy he created.