Jean Piaget, a Swiss philosopher and psychologist, made listening to and observing children in order to better understand the evolution of knowledge the focus of his professional life. He also spent a great deal of his time reading and studying the work of other researchers on this topic. He concluded that children have an entirely different way of thinking than adults.
1. Child Logic
Piaget’s discovery that children and adults had very different thought processes was indeed significant. The fact that children used their own kind of logic to make sense of their world was a simple theory but great in the sense that, as Einstein put it, “only a genius could have thought of it.”
2. Life’s Work
Piaget dedicated his life to research in his field. He made his first publication at the age of 10 and continued working until he died at age 84. He did a wide range of the work and his contributions lead to the development of entirely new fields of science.
3. Creating Scientific Theories
Over Piaget’s long scientific career, he was responsible for creating the scientific theories of developmental psychology, cognitive theory and what is now called genetic epistemology.
4. An Inspiration to Educators
His work with children and focus on child development lead to many of the early education reform movements. Even today, Piaget is an inspiration to educators because he discovered that children are constantly creating and adapting, rather than simply waiting to be spoon-fed from a text book.
5. Evolution of the Mind
Since the time that Piaget was 10 years old he was interested in how the mind evolved. For this reason he was moved to study under some of the greatest pioneers in psychology including Jung, Theodore Simo and Binet. He figured that the key to understanding how the mind worked lay in better understanding how the mind evolved starting in childhood.
6. Quiet Observation
Piaget spent much of his time quietly observing children in their natural element. He would ask them simple questions and record in great detail not only how they responded verbally, but also physically.
7. Children’s Answers
Piaget observed that children would answer questions that were asked of them drawing from their own understanding of the world around them. He found it almost abusive that adults would be so quick to classify a child’s answer as right or wrong, when, in reality the child simply failed to give the answer that the adult preferred, which didn’t necessarily make it wrong. Piaget believed that if we constantly admonished children’s inventiveness and creativity as being incorrect, children would lose interest in trying to be inventive and curious.
8. Children’s Laws & Logic
Piaget’s observations lead to the explanation of a child’s primitive laws of physics. Among these laws, children believe or observe that: things disappear when they are out of sight; the moon and the sun follow you around and big things float and small things sink. Einstein was especially interested in Piaget’s observation that children reasoned that it takes more time to go faster, as he was ridiculed for sharing this belief because so many people at the time believed that such reasoning was contrary to logic.
9. Four Stages of Childhood Development
Piaget’s four stages of childhood development are: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational.
10. The Study of Knowledge
Epistemology, not child psychology, was Piaget’s real interest. Epistemology, or the study of knowledge, was simply best observed in children, as their rate of knowledge acquisition is so much faster than that of an adult.