Case Observation: Piaget’s Theory For Cognitive Development In A Child
In this study the theory that is used with an experimental point of view was applied on a 24 months old child. It is an interpretation of a small part of Jean Piaget’s work, involving the observation of sensorimotor period of a child (Piaget and Cook, 1952). Research process will be carried out using the methodology that Piaget used to create his theory of intelligence (Piaget, 2005).
Psychology is a very important field in general, and indispensable in the stage of Early Childhood growth. Many authors intend to understand the characteristic thought of these ages. It is necessary to study this area in order to understand the child and be able to offer him the adequate materials to enhance all his developments (National Research Council, 2000).
For only a few decades, the study of the cognitive capacity of babies has been very scarce and, through this research, I think it is a great opportunity to explore on this topic. One of these great authors dedicated to the study of human knowledge is Jean Piaget, a psychologist who based his cognitive theory on the genetic inheritance that characterizes every living being (Wellman and Gelman, 1992). Through this theory we can find out how the child begins to perceive the environment in which he is and the reality in which he lives; how he internalizes that reality in his mind and, in short, how the phenomenon of intelligence begins to occur.
During this period the child is able to perceive the reality in which he lives through the reflections. For the observations, the reflections of the child’s suction, a type of biological and instinctive reflexes, will be taken as reference. However, we are going to look into the sixth age which has the characteristics of the child at the age of approximately two years.
The child is playing with three dolls introducing them in a box; but he loses one of them and starts calling him and looking for him around him. The child knows that this object is missing because they have it mentally assimilated. This assimilation is also appreciated when looking for it and not finding it (because that object already has its own characteristics and none of those that it sees resembles the one that visualizes mentally).
I taught the child a giant puzzle of the parts of the plant. The puzzle is divided into stem, leaves and flower; and they should be placed on a mural that contains the silhouette of the plant. After showing him the place where each piece goes; he does it to herself perfectly. The next day, I return to show him the puzzle but, with a new difference, the visual support of the mural with the silhouette is not there. Without saying anything, the child takes each of the parts of the plant and place them on the wall where the mural was stuck the day before.
The child has visualized how he formed the plant the day before and the position of each one of the parts, in such a way that he has been able to place it perfectly without needing to be seeing the silhouette.
I taught the child a game of a rectangular cork with holes. While looking at the cork, I put a pencil in one of the holes; being this one vertically on the ground. But the holes in the cork are designed so that the pencil can only be driven through the tip. The child seeing this fact, laughs and I propose that he continue playing with the cork. That’s when the child starts to stick pencils in the cork, but does not enter it all. Some entered, but in a failed attempt to put them he begins to leave them apart and take new ones until they enter.
As you can see that not each one is still able to enter. He gets to use the ones that are already placed to put them in that hole. In such a way that he only begins to introduce the pencils in those holes in which he has been able to introduce one. Giving to understand that not all the holes are worth it to have a pencil inserted in them.
After several correct attempts to put the pencils in those holes, there is one that does not fit. Following his hypothesis that all the holes do not work, he begins to try to insert the pencil in all those he thinks fit, but without turning the position of the pencil; in such a way that in none of the holes that he thought the pencil could stick.
That’s when he changes tactics and tries to introduce it in all possible ways (on the blunt side, with the pencil lying down, etc.). After many attempts exploring these possibilities with different pencils, one ends up realizing that the pencil is only stuck on the side of the tip. So, his first scheme in which not all the holes are of the same size, is lost by forming a new one: the pen only enters in a particular, possible way.
I asked the child to play a game with me. In the game we place 3 toy glasses of the same size but different colors (yellow, red, green) in a row. I showed the child a plastic egg, and I kept it in one of the glasses and I asked him which one of the three I have introduced. He responds correctly to me in the ‘red’. So, he mentally represents the egg in the red cup.
Then, I put the three glasses upside down and ask again where I put the egg; to which he replies again that the egg is in the ‘red’, which further strengthened his knowledge.
I change the position of the glasses upside down doing only two movements, and I ask the question again ‘Where is the egg?’ and the child without hesitation says again in the red glass.
With this fact it is demonstrated that the child knows where the egg is at all times even having hidden it and even having changed it. He is able to follow the steps, both visible and invisible, regardless of the color of the glass,
Later I decided to hide the egg in the yellow glass. I asked him the same questions as in the previous observation: ‘Where is the egg?’. The child replied that the egg was in the ‘yellow’ glass, assimilating in this way a first mental representation. Moving the glasses again when I asked him again if he knew where the egg was; he answered me firmly that the egg was in the ‘red’ glass. Immediately, he pounced on the glass of that color to uncover it and see if indeed the egg was in it; but, to his surprise, he discovered that the red container was empty. I could sense how he was shocked to see that the glass was not in the same place. He did not mentally represent the egg in the correct glass but only noticed those visible movements that had been made, so he uncovered the glass that was in the same position where the egg disappeared.
He continued to uncover the next glass, the green glass; that it did not contain anything inside it either. Finally, he uncovered the last glass, the yellow glass, and inside it he found the egg that we had hidden.
In this case the child still does not perceive the invisible movements that are made in the object, suggesting that he is still in a process of change between stage 5 and stage 6 of Piaget.
On this second attempt when I ask him where the egg is when he has hidden it, he does not answer me in a spoken way but he does it visually by pointing the object to me with his eyes. When I perform the movement of the vessels, he carefully unclogs the vessel that is in the position in which the vessel was last seen. Unlike the previous time in which the child would uncover the glass for being the last place where he saw him, here, the child stays a few seconds pensive until he decides to uncover it; trying to think about the movements of this one but without reaching its goal. During this observation, the child has the same reaction as last time.
It is appreciated how the child acquires a series of mental abilities in which he puts into play the ‘possibilities of action’ without having to resort to them, because they are in his brain.
Through these new situations, the child develops such a capacity to search for the solution. At first he tries to realize all the possibilities of an event in a mechanical way but, little by little, internalizes those possibilities without having to arrive at the action; it deduces them mentally. Thus, it can be verified that while the child has already established the permanence of the object, giving rise to the end of the sixth stage of Piaget.
In this observation the child is sitting on the floor. In front of him I put a cushion that I will call ‘A’ and, followed by this, a second cushion identical to what I will call ‘B’. Above ‘B’, and as far away as possible from the child, I place a plush toy of a rabbit. When he goes to catch the rabbit, sits in front of ‘A.’ After a few seconds, he reacts by suddenly removing ‘A’ and leaving the rabbit ‘B’ within reach. The child hesitates for a few seconds, then starts to crawl around ‘B’, finally being able to pick up the stuffed animal.
The same observation is made by Piaget (1952), and in it the following happens: the child is sitting before a large square cushion C, placed on the floor. Beyond the cushion there is a second pillow D, of identical aspect, in such a way that Lucienne has in front of it two successive cushions. I put my clock in D, the most far away from the child. The child looks at the clock, but does not try to catch it directly: he takes the cushion C and then separates it, then draws the cushion D towards herself and picks up the watch. (p.273)
I experimented with the child one of his favorite toys and see how I put it on a small table. He approaches to be able to take it but, after several attempts he verifies that it is impossible. At his side, there is a toy cube that he always uses to sit on it; so, he picks it up and climbs on it until he reaches the object. The child ‘seeing an inaccessible bottle, but located on a lid within reach, immediately attracts the lid to catch the bottle’ (Piaget, 1952, p.273). In both cases they know how to use the objects because they have already encountered similar situations with similar objects, and have ended up assimilating those actions.
The child is located behind a railing formed by vertically placed bars. In front of him, and on the other side of the railing, I place a stick long enough so that it does not cross the bars when it is perpendicular to them. I put the stick on the floor parallel to the railing so that it is not so easy to transfer it. The child takes the stick through the bars and try to pass, but as much as he pulls it does not get pulled; since it is perpendicular to the bars. He keeps trying for several more times but in none of them he gets a good result; until, then, he begins to turn the stick until it is perpendicular to the ground and manages to pass the bars.
I showed the child a marble and hide it in my hand. Afterwards, I put my hand under a rag and I leave the marble under it without the child being able to see it. I take my hand back with my fist closed and wait to see the reaction it has. The child stares at the hand and opens it. When he sees that the marble is not in his hand he is really disconcerted and stops looking for it. The child has not yet assimilated that there are movements outside the visible, that’s why he cannot find the marble. The notion that has object is not fully developed, and he does not know how to find the object when it is hidden by a movement not visible.
During this stage children begin to make significant movements to get everything they want (like a stuffed animal, a stick, a book, etc.). They are focused on everything they have around them to reach their goal.
In this stage, the child does not have any problem when interacting with reality, but when this reality is hidden for him, the child only perceives the places where he has seen them for the last time, leaving aside all those invisible movements that are made.
Through this, we deduce that the child has a mere concept of the object, and that there are relations between objects with other elements of the environment; but it still does not assimilate it to the fact that the object is present if we do not see it, in this case, that object tends to disappear from reality.
Reflection and Evaluation
As I have been making the observations I have been able to realize all the aspects that characterize each stage of the sensorimotor period. For instance, the theory postulated by this author; as well as the common characteristics that can be found in all children according to the stage in which they are. Children may also be different in their mental approach. Although they are all children with similar abilities, it should not be forgotten that each child has a personality and an exclusive learning rhythm that makes us different from each other and, ultimately, unique.
Throughout this period there is gradually, an internalization of the environment in the child with the result of developing their intelligence and increasing it. It is through these reflections that they will provide the intelligence of this child. So, the genetics of the human species is a great trigger for all this development; but the environment also contributes in a very influential way.
These reflexes, through interaction with the environment, will go from being innate to becoming intentional acts. However, ‘it must be clear that the appearance of each new stage does not in any way suppress the behaviors of the previous stages and that the new behaviors simply overlap with the old ones’ (Piaget, 1952, p.316). All these behaviors form a closed circle in which they develop more and more, without neglecting their initial basis; Its essence.
In all cases, the six stages of the sensorimotor period are produced, but not all children begin or end each of them at the same age. In this way, Piaget establihes a series of reference times to be able to situate each stage from a general point of view; times that are not always met, but used to form their cognitive theory.
Although the events that appear in the theory are established, after the observations we can say that, in relation to the object, the child of this age may have the following characteristics:
The child stops observing the objects to focus on their actions. The child is able to discover hidden objects but, unlike the previous stage, he looks for them where they were last seen (Piaget, 2013).
Lastly, we can talk about the permanence of the object. The child is able to search for all kinds of hidden objects in which both visible and non-visible movements are used to hide them (Piaget, 2013). All this process is due to the fact that the child is capable of generating ‘possibilities’ through mental representations.
Also, I think it is appropriate to highlight the importance of all the developments that intervene in the child (visual, motor, auditory, etc.) and that help him to know his reality when he is in contact with it. No less important are the senses, in which thanks to them the child knows a greater number of characteristics of the objects and is able to differentiate them from each other.
Context of the Study and Analysis
The study carried out for this has been difficult when it comes to putting it into practice. The fact of being able to find at least one boy that covered this 6th and last stage of the sensory-motor period at the age of 24 months has been a great barrier in the study because I hardly counted on the possibility of finding such small children. For these reasons the difficulty when finding subjects to be able to carry out my study for me has been a great challenge.
The Ethical Issues Surrounding While Working With Children
In relation to the ethical issues related to the study, systematic observation and the analysis of contexts have been fulfilled in a satisfactory manner. It was ensured that no activities were performed that could be against the ethical practices. Although the intimacy of the child at this age with his mother is an important aspect of development, it was intently left to maintain the ethical grounds.
The main purpose of this study was to be able to carry out experimentally part of the process by which Jean Piaget had to go through in order to achieve his theory of intellectual development. My intention was to be able to work each one of the stages that characterize the sensory-motor period of this theory in order to get to understand at first hand the origin of the permanence of the object that is produced in the child, the main origin of human knowledge.
This work has been a great personal and internal challenge for me while I have been giving shape to it. During these years of my education, this was a subject that fascinated me from the start. This is why I assumed that it would be a great job just to be able to see how far I can go and be able to do something, to expose myself to the limit; and with this work I have achieved it pleasantly.
It seems essential to know these issues more deeply because in these ages is where we started talking about ‘intelligence’. Having these concepts well assimilated in our head, we can be able to find out if any of our students may have some kind of mental problem, to be able to help them in everything we can, since they are the most important thing in our profession.
In turn, throughout my life I have barely had contact with babies and it has been a unique and very enriching experience, both professionally and personally. This work has allowed me to have a deeper knowledge in this stage of Early Childhood development and to put to the test all the knowledge I have about it. At the beginning I always had fears when thinking if I would be able to master the situations with the children because I had not been barely with newborn babies, if I knew how to analyze the observations, if you could distinguish and interpret them, and ultimately; if I could get to do a good project that would be satisfactory.
I had a hard time interpreting the observations I was making little by little. It is difficult to interpret if the simple fact that the child throws a toy on the floor, may or may not mean that he is knowing the properties of this. It was really complex but all these complications were gone when I finished my work.
During this stage the children show enormous changes in a very short period of time. There is an evolution of the reflexes of children, going from being innate and hereditary to being a series of acts full of intentions and purposes.
But above all, it is thanks to these reflections how the child begins to realize the reality in which he lives. He realizes from the moment when, for the first time, his thumb meets his lips and ends up sucking him; He is aware of the action of sucking the finger but does not know what the object is that sucks. Little by little he will be aware that it is not always the same objects that he sucks; that each one is different and it has peculiar characteristics, that the breast of its mother is not the same as its own finger.
He realizes that the objects are there and he does it through his senses: the smell, the touch, the sight, the smell. Of all these senses that will be sharpened as the child grows. The shaking of some keys, the discovery of the face through a mirror or the first discovery of an object hidden under a cloth as if it were a magic trick. This is the true importance of this study.
- National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. National Academies Press.
- Piaget, J. (2005). The psychology of intelligence. Routledge.
- Piaget, J. (2013). The construction of reality in the child. Routledge.
- Piaget, J., & Cook, M. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, p. 18). New York: International Universities Press.
- Wellman, H. M., & Gelman, S. A. (1992). Cognitive development: Foundational theories of core domains. Annual review of psychology, 43(1), 337-375.