Piaget's Developmental Stages

Neuroscientists recognise that brain development works alongside cognitive development in children (4). Children consistently create and test theories to explain the world they observe. At critical points in their development, new ways of thinking or constructing knowledge emerge (8).

Noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget proposed four stages of cognitive development which reflect the increasing sophistication of children's thought. Each child goes through the same stages in the same order. (9)


These 4 stages are:

1. The SENSORIMOTOR STAGE for ages 0 - 2

2. The PRE-OPERATIONAL STAGE for ages 2 - 7


4. The FORMAL OPERATIONAL STAGE for ages 11 - 15 +

This site concentrates on babies in the 1st stage of development 

The SENSORIMOTOR STAGE for ages 0 - 2​

This is a period of rapid development when babies are focussed on gaining mastery of their own bodies and the properties of external objects, utilizing basic reflexes, senses and motor responses.

Babies learn about their own little world through basic actions such as sucking, grasping, looking

and listening.

They learn 'object permanence' which is knowing that an object still exists even if it is hidden. This requires the ability to form a mental representation

of the object.

Early experiences here determine whether a child's developing brain architecture provides a strong or weak foundation for all future learning behaviour and health (17).


To provide the best opportunities for baby to thrive at this age:

  • Provide a rich stimulating environment for active exploration, and touching, smelling and manipulating real objects.

  •  Connect play to all the senses- seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling objects (sometimes tasting).

  • Use 'cause and effect' toys such as rubber ducks that squeak when squeezed or a rattle which makes a noise when shaken.

  • Utilize 'practice play' which consists of repeated patterns of movement or sound such as sucking, shaking, banging, babbling and eventually 'peekaboo' games in which objects are made to repeatedly disappear and reappear (9,13,14,15,16) 

Early experiences determine whether a child’s developing brain architecture provides a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behaviour, and health.  (17)




Language and thinking develop greatly although thinking is still mostly in concrete terms.
Children begin to think symbolically to represent objects.
Children tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others
Children cannot mentally manipulate information or understand concrete logic, or conservation (changing shape does not change volume).


To provide the best opportunities for children to thrive at this age:

  • Hands on activities allow children to actively interact with a variety of things in their environments, including books, people, games, and objects.  

  • Children think of their world in a very concrete way so encourage pretend play and role play.

  • Children become increasingly adept at using symbols, such as the use of objects for purposes other than their intended function eg broomsticks for horses. 

  • Encourage children to play with toys that change shape (playdoh, sand, clay) or items such as buttons and beads, to help them move towards the concept of conservation. (13 14 15 16 18)

Children learn best by doing (18)

Children are still very concrete and literal in their thinking but more logical and organized. They struggle with hypotheticals but can concentrate on many aspects of a situation at the same time
Inductive reasoning is good, going from a specific experience to a general principle but deductive reasoning  (A=B, B=C, so A=?) is not.
Conservation develops, understanding that when something changes in size or shape, it is still the same.
They understand reversibility.


To provide the best opportunities for children to thrive at this age:

  • Children become less egocentric and more sociocentric. They start thinking how others view the world. Play games which require compromise

  • Create timelines, three dimensional models, science experiments, and other ways to manipulate abstract concepts.

  • Use brain teasers and riddles to foster analytical thinking     

  • Focus on open-ended questioning (13 16)

Reversibility = My labrador is a dog. My dog is a labrador. (13) 

The adolescent or young adult begins to think abstractly and reason about hypothetical problems.
They can think about theoretical concepts and use logic to come up with creative solutions to problems
They begin to use deductive logic, or reasoning from a general principle to specific information


To provide the best opportunities for children to thrive at this age:

  • Offer step-by-step explanations of concepts and utilize charts and other visual aids. 

  • Explore hypothetical situations. You may relate them to current events or social issues.

  • Broaden concepts whenever possible with current topics 

  • With maturity and the ability to reason, competitive games with codes or rules begin to dominate.    (13 15 16 19)

Teens begin to think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning. (13)

1. AZ Quotes [Internet].  [cited 2019 Apr 6] Available from 2. [Internet].  How your brain works 101. 2013 Oct 2 [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available form 3. Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Brain architecture [Internet].  National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007 [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 4. Perry BD. The developing brain. London Family Court Clinic. [Internet] 2004 [cited 2019 April 6]. Available from 5. Hong R, Mason CM. Becoming a neurobiologically-informed play therapist. International Journal of Play Therapy [Internet]. 2016 Jan [cited 2019 Apr 7];25(1):35-44. Available from 6. Perry BD. Applying principles of neurodevelopment to clinical work with maltreated and traumatized children: The neurosequential model of therapeutics. The Child Trauma Academy [Internet] 2006 [cited 2019 Apr 6]; 1-27. Available from 7. Gaskill RL, Perry BD. The neurobiological power of play: Using the neurosequential model of therapeutics to guide play in the healing process. In: Malchiodi CA, Crenshaw DA, editors. Malchiodi_CreativeArts&PlayTherpyAttachProbs.indb [Internet]. The Guildford Press;2014 [cited 2019 Apr 6]; 178-194 Available from 8. Myers JE, Shoffner MF, Briggs MK. Developmental counseling and therapy: An effective approach to understanding and counseling children. J_Myers_Developmental_2002.pdf. [Internet] 2002 [cited 2019 Apr 6]; 1-12. Available from 9. McLeod S. Simply Psychology [Internet]. Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development [2018; cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 10. Play and Playground Encyclopedia [Internet]. Picture Perfect Playground; 2019. Jean Piaget. [cited 2019 Apr 6]. Available from 11. Perry BD. Incubated in terror: Neurodevelopmental factors in the ‘cycle of violence’. The Child Trauma Academy. [Internet] 1997 [cited 2019 April 6]; 1-24. Available from 12. Spooner C.  NACSW [Internet]. Annapolis: NACSW; 2014. Trauma & attachment-based family play therapy. 2014 November [cited 2019 Apr 6]. Available from 13. Cherry K. Very Well Mind [Internet]. The 4 stages of cognitive development. [2019 Mar 1; cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 14. [Internet]. Jean Piaget. [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 15.  [Internet]. Play. [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 16 .Marcin A. Healthline [Internet]. What are Piaget’s stages of development and how are they used? 2019 Mar 27 [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 17. Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy: Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable Children. [Internet].  National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007 [cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available 18. Cherry K. Very Well Mind [Internet]. The preoperational stage of cognitive development. [2018 Sep 26; cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from 19. Cherry K. Very Well Mind [Internet]. The formal operational stage of cognitive development. [2018 Dec 12; cited 2019 Apr 7]. Available from