Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Piaget and my kids

One of the classes I'm taking this semester is Language Acquisition. It helps that I have a husband who has two master's degrees AND a PhD in Language Acquisition (or Second Language Acquisition). I've been around this stuff for years now and I like to think I've taken a lot in by osmosis, mostly while sitting on the couch nursing babies while Jeremy studied. Right.

I never really had a handle on Piaget, though, until I had to present his Theory of Cognitive Development to my LA class last week. I ended up spending a lot of time preparing it because I found the stages so fascinating. I especially enjoyed seeking out home videos of my own kids (and a couple of YouTube videos) demonstrating aspects of Piaget's stages. The stages, by the way, are Sensorimotor (0-2 years), Preoperational (2-7 years), Concrete Operational (7-11 years), and Formal Operational (11-16+ years). This was one of those cases where I had a definite advantage over my classmates because I've witnessed my kids go through these stages.

Obviously, a lot happens to a child's brain in those first two years, so the Sensorimotor stage has six sublevels. The first is Simple Reflexes. There's not a lot a 0-6 weeks baby can do except suck, root, and grasp. Here is a video of 10-day-old Magdalena rooting.

By age 4 months, the baby has moved on to the First Habits and Primary Circular Reactions sublevel. Any parent or caretaker has seen babies accidentally shove their fist into their mouth, and then try (sometimes in vain) to repeat it. I couldn't find a really relevant video of my own kids doing this, but I did find this little guy.

From 4-8 months, the baby works through the sublevel of Secondary Circular Reactions. They can grab stuff on purpose and repeat actions that bring interesting results. However, they have not yet achieved understanding of the concept of object permanence, which makes peek-a-boo a really fun game at this stage. This is most hilariously demonstrated by this video of a 5-month-old baby in this stage being confused when his mom's face disappears behind a tissue.

The sublevel of 8-12 months is called Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions. Consider the growth already shown in the above videos. Now take a look at the continuing intellectual development displayed in this video of a baby in the 8-12 months sublevel.

Look at that intentionality, at the coordination and (relative to any of the previous stages) physical prowess! Amazing.

Moving on to 12-18 months, aka Tertiary Circular Reactions, aka When Parenting Gets Fun. At this age, kids turn into little scientists. They are constantly testing out their environments and their ability to have an effect on their surroundings. They always want to find new ways to do the same old things. I love this video of 16-month-old Miriam performing little experiments on the fly.

Notice how she walks over the metal portion of the sidewalk, notes the noise it makes, and returns to duplicate the noise. Then she practices walking stagger-footed on the curb. There is just so much for these kids to learn, and walking normally from A to B is never going to get it done!

The final sublevel of the Sensorimotor stage is from ages 18-24 months, called Internalization of Schemes. Kids are gaining skills in symbolic communication and enduring mental representations. They also demonstrate insight and creativity, as shown in this video of my friend Mikael's almost-2-year-old twins orchestrating an escape from their cribs.

The next level of cognitive development is the Preoperational Stage (ages 2-7), and it's where both my kids are currently situated. A major component of this stage is "Why?" questions and pretend play. To illustrate this point in my presentation, I showed clips of this epic video of 4-year-old Miriam immersed in an elaborate Pretend Play situation.

The last two stages deal with levels of development that I didn't have home videos for, since none of my kids are that old. But I certainly have a lot of things to look forward to, including the end of Egocentrism. Woohoo!

I hope you've enjoyed this walk with me down Piaget lane. Sometimes it's nice to learn something about our kids' brains, to figure out where they are in their cognitive journey and to better be able to help them decipher the world around them.


Mr. Anderson said...

Hate to tell you, but there is no guarantee that someone will graduate from Egocentrism... I have college students that are not even close ;)

Amanda said...

My mom has a masters in something about teaching reading, and she is ALWAYS talking about Piaget. She rails against the school system pushing kids to do more than they are developmentally ready for... Like when Lillian got marked down because she couldn't rhyme, not for lack of me trying to practice with her, but because her brain couldn't do it. Then, one day, she figured it out. Like a light switch. Plus, if I ever have a band, I might name it Internalization of Schemes.

Anonymous said...

I really loved this post, I found it extremely insightful. I couldn't help but notice that Miriam in the last video, as she is singing, really holds her notes...almost like an Islamic prayer, I'm curious if this is just her taste or maybe due to cultural surroundings. My girls sing like taylor swift so I'm wondering how much music has an effect.


Bridget said...

Maybe it's a little bit of both:


Her tastes have probably been informed by cultural surroundings.


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