The Four Stages of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget identified the Four Stages of Cognitive Development in children in 1936.


He was the first researcher who conducted a systematic study into cognitive development.

Piaget suggests that intelligence isn’t fixed,  and so children can’t be provided with information all at one time. Instead, they must learn in stages.


The four stages of cognitive development are:


  1. Sensorimotor stage: birth to 2

  • In the first stage the child experiences movements and sensations.
  • This stage is mainly concerned with object performance. Children begin to form representations mentally of objects. They are able to see them even if the object isn’t in front of them.
  • They learn that their performances can cause a reaction in their surrounding environment.



  1. Preoperational stage: age 2 to 7

  • Children begin to talk, learning words and associations.
  • They haven’t grasped the concept of understanding others fully at this stage.
  • Although they are developing their language and understanding, they still have concrete ways of thinking about things.



  1. Concrete operational stage: age 7 to 11

  • Now children are at the stage of logical thinking about concrete events.
  • They are able to create and form judgements based on logic, developing their own opinions and outcomes.



  1. Formal operational stage: age 12 +

  • In the final stage, the young adult can rationalise hypothetical problems.
  • They begin to form abstract thoughts and reasoning.
  • For example, having opinions on political, philosophical and societal issues.


The four stages of cognitive development is a factor of both biological maturation and interaction with one’s surroundings.

These stages separate the main differences in children and in adults. Piaget found this through observing the reasons behind why children give incorrect answers and linking this to developing logical thinking.

With this model, it was suggested that children can differ from one another with how quickly they progress through the stages. However, some children may not reach the final stages as effectively as others.

The ages and stages can predict where the child is at in terms of their learning development. The child will go through the four stages in that order and their development is determined by the rate they mature and their interaction with the world around them.


Piaget summarised that there are four main stages that children learn at, which is defined by their ages.

The model can help teachers and parents identify which stage of learning their child is at.

With this information, they can set appropriate learning material for the child and recognise their capability with the tasks.