Understanding Each Other: How a Child Thinks

Child développement is a topic much discussed in the realm of psychologie. We (Américains and other ethnicités) take child développement so sérieusement that the discussion even extends into the teaching field…and rightfully so. But, I can’t help but wonder: Why are psychologists, épistémologistes, behaviorists, and anyone in the teaching realm intrigued by how children développent?

In one université classe during my teaching license studies, I wrote a short essay exploring raisons why we are so infatuated with child développement. Several years later, I found this essay on my laptop and I realized that the sujet still intrigue me.

Perhaps, we are fascinated by the vast différences between how adultes and children process information. Adultes were children at one point; therefore, they did not always process information in the same fashion their entire lives. This concept leads to the fact that there are stages of développement for processing information. But, what are these stages? What happens to the child throughout each stage? Answers to these questions may explique why some adultes do not understand adolescents and why some adolescents do not understand adultes.

In order to touch upon the idea of understanding how a child thinks (obviously, from the mind of an adulte who analyzes children), one must consider Jean Piaget.

Jean Piaget coined the 4 stages of child développement; these stages determine the âges in which children process information. By analyzing children during each stage, one can understand why children act and think the way they do. Piaget’s théories are illustrated in many texts; however, How A Child Thinks, by Dorothy G. Singer and Tracey A. Revenson, lays out each stage and offre a more in-depth analysis at the same time.

According to Revenson and Singer, Piaget focused on the qualitative characteristics of child développement. Instead of researching how much children can memorize, as did many of his collègues, he conducted expérimentations to discover “how [children have] come to learn” what they know (3). This concept is important not only to professionnels in the field of psycho-social sciences, but also to teachers, teachers-in-training, child-care professionnels, and parents.

Why is this concept so important for these professionnels (yes, parents are included here)?

Understanding Piaget’s théories will help educators and child-care professionnels be better at their jobs. It will also help parents better understand their children, thus helping make them better parents.

[I can réponds to this question better (and personally) as an educator than a parent because I’m a new parent. My daughter is only 6 mois old, so, I’ve yet to encounter the stages above sensory-motor.]

Understanding Piaget’s théories enable educators to modifié leçons to fit the développemental stage of the student. This is important because students understand différent concepts around certains âges. Teaching at a level higher than what the student is capable of comprehending will inhibit the student from acquiring the materiel. For exemple, instructing a five-year old to make a map of the route he/she takes to/from school (1). This task would be difficile for most five-year olds because their développement cognitif has not yet reached this concept. At the same time, teaching at a level lower than what the student is capable of learning will prevent the student from acquiring more knowledge. The student may even cause problèmes in classe because the materiel is too easy.

This théorie goes hand-in-hand with my philosophie of éducation. In order to make sure that students don’t put up their affective filters (and aren’t sleeping in classe), foreign language teachers must teach at an input level of +1 (See: Steven Krashen). C’est à dire that we must teach at the students’ current level and then boost the level up 1. For exemple, during week 1 in English level 1, I don’t expect students to form complexe sentences using conjunctions. Instead, I add to what the students already know. On day 2, they all know how to say, “My name is…” So, I add to that by teaching, “Her/his name is…”, “My teacher’s name is…”, …ect… Here, they learn “his/her” and several vocabulary words (such as teacher, student, dog, cat…). So, this concept works with Piaget in that teachers must know the développemental stage of their students (whether its ages or level) in order for students to acquire the materiel.

Through Piaget’s recherche, it is évident that as children age, their habilités cognitives grow – a growth, which occurs in stages. To better illustrate Piaget’s théories, Revenson and Singer use several children’s books. The most appropriate being: Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I have read an analyzed the version français of this book, and although it’s a “children’s” book, it’s full of morals, concepts, and life-leçons that are not just for children, but also for adultes. 

It is évident that this book répond to the same question that Piaget pose: “How do children learn the things they know?” (3). For exemple, the book follows Le Petit Prince as he encounters several adultes who seem pre-occupied or overwhelmed with following societal norms that dictate how they should act as adultes. He asks a lot of questions in order to better understand the adultes; however, in the end, he thinks that most of the adultes are weird because they waste their time on boring, useless, or pointless things, and that they have no imagination. But, how does Le Petit Prince know that the adultes are wasting their time? It is intéressant that most children feel the same way as Le Petit Prince. But, why do children find adultes weird? Why do adultes lack an imagination? The answers to these questions may be the clef (key) to understanding each other. Thankfully, Piaget’s théories may help us find these answers.

Piaget conducted expérimentations using the “technique of free conversation” in order to découvrir how children process information (6). He thought that this méthode would benefit his recherche the most because he could “[follow] the child’s train of thought and [allow] the questioning to be flexible” (6). He was able to observe how children think and répondent. Although he studied several children, he focused a lot on his own children, which may lead to flaws in his recherche since not all kids are like his own. However, as a résultat of his expérimentations, Piaget coined 4 main stages of child développement: Sensory-Motor (birth-age 2), Preoperational (ages 2-7), Concrete Operations (ages 7-11), and Formal Operations (ages 11-16). These stages of développement changed the way in which child développement was viewed.

Piaget also added a stage that appears after childhood.

Although Piaget changed the way in which professionnels and the like view child development, there are “flaws” in his théories. According to Revenson and Singer, Piaget did not account for children with développemental disorders/problems. Knowledge of these children is necessary because without it, the child could be taught at a level above or below the child’s actual développemental stage, which could differ from the standard stage at the child’s âge. En plus, there are cases where the child has no développemental disabilities, but still does not follow the exact âges of each stage in Piaget’s théorie. Piaget fails to account for these scenarios.

Nevertheless, Piaget still manages to shed light on why adultes and children don’t understand each other. According to Piaget’s théories, adultes may not understand children because adultes process information logically. En générale, adultes fail to understand anything other than what’s logical, here-and-now, and fits into societal norms. Children, however, fail to understand adultes because they think imaginatively and use inductive reasoning.

Through his expérimentations, Piaget paved the way for professionnels to study child développement despite some flaws in his théories. Revenson and Singer note that due to Piaget’s experimental style, Piaget is best looked at for his idées, rather than for accurate data, thus enabling other professionnels to take Piaget’s idées to form more concrete idées of their own. Perhaps, the more publicized théories on child développement that exist, the more likely adultes and children will come to a mutual understanding…one can hope. ♦

*This post is an adaption and addition to my université essay.

**Information on the texte used: Singer, Dorothy G., Revenson, Tracey A. (1996). How A Child Thinks. New York: International Universities Press, Inc.


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