Cognitive development
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Cognitive Development. Piaget’s Sensorimotor Period. Piaget believed children’s cognitive development occurred in stages. The stages were brought on by biological maturation and environmental triggers The stages are: Sensorimotor (0 – 2 yrs ) Pre-operational (2 – 7 yrs.)

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Cognitive Development

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Cognitive Development

Piaget’s Sensorimotor Period

  • Piaget believed children’s cognitive development occurred in stages. The stages were brought on by biological maturation and environmental triggers The stages are:

    • Sensorimotor (0 – 2 yrs)

    • Pre-operational (2 – 7 yrs.)

    • Concrete Operational (7 – 11 yrs).

    • Formal Operational (11+ yrs.)

Sensorimotor Period

  • In infancy, children are in the sensorimotor period. At this stage, children learn through the senses. Cognitive development is built through the infant’s interactions with the environment.

  • There are six substages.

Substage 1: The use of reflexes

  • Age range: Birth to 1 month

  • Infants are born with inherited reflexes and it is through the reflexes that the infant begins to make meaning and build understanding.

  • Reflexes are highly stereotyped automatic behaviours that occur in response to specific stimuli.

  • Reflexes include:

    • Root reflex: when the corner of the baby’s mouth is stroked or touched the baby will turn toward the sensation and open his/her mouth. This helps the baby find the nipple to begin feeding.

    • Suck reflex: when the roof of the baby’s mouth is touch the baby will start to suck in order to feed.

    • Moro reflex: when the baby is startled, the baby will throw back the head, extend the arms and legs, cry, then pull the arms and legs back towards the body.

  • Reflexes continued:

    • Tonic neck reflex: when the baby’s head is turned to one side, the arm on that side stretches out and the opposite arm bends up at the elbow.

    • Grasp reflex: when the baby’s palm is stroked the fingers will close around the object.

    • Babinski reflex: when the baby’s foot is firmly stroked, the big toe will bend back toward the top of the foot and the other toes will fan out.

    • Step reflex: when the baby is held upright, it will take steps or dance if the feet are touching a solid surface.


Substage 2: Primary Circular Reactions

  • Age Range: 1 – 4 months

  • Circular reactions are repetitive behaviours. Primary circular reactions are behaviour that occur unexpectantly from reflexes. A reflex will engage the child in some form of behaviour. If the child finds that behaviour pleasurable, the child will repeat the behaviour.

  • Example: thumb sucking

Substage 3: Secondary Circular Reactions

  • Age range: 4-8 months

  • These reactions do not originate with reflexes, but are caused by unintentional occurrences, from the child interacting with the environment.

  • Example: an infant accidently hits a mobile above his/her head. The mobile spins and catches the baby’s attention. If they like it, the child will try to hit the mobile again.


Substage 4: Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions

  • Age range: 8 -12 months

  • At this stage, infants are starting to understand that one circular reaction can be used to get another circular reaction. Behaviours that the child displays are not for a reason. At this stage, the child begins to gain a sense of cause and effect.

  • Example: The child will move a blanket to get to a rattle.

Object Permanence

  • Before substage 4, the infant doesn’t understand that an object out-of-sight continues to exist.

  • When object permanence occurs, the child realizes that the object still exists and will start to look for it.

  • Children who have achieved object permanence often demonstrate it through games like peek-a-boo.

  • Developing object permanence:


  • Object permanence achieved:


Substage 5: Tertiary Circular Reactions

  • Age range: 12-18 months

  • Infants will complete actions deliberately and with purpose. If the action is pleasurable, the child will repeat the action with some variation.

  • Example: A child beats on a pot with a wooden spoon, then beats on the floor, and finally on the refrigerator.

Substage 6: Coordination of Tertiary Circular Reactions

  • Age Range: 18 -24 months

  • Children begin to internalize behaviours and began to build mental symbols. This stage is when children are able to participate in pretend play.

  • Example: A child is pretending to cook and needs to “mix the ingredients” in a bowl. However, the child doesn’t have a spoon, so the child pretends to use a spoon or will use a similar object.

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