Piaget and a Child’s Mind

For Piaget, children were little scientists actively constructing their world, carrying out experiments and testing hypotheses. This was a far cry from the more common view that they were empty vessels into which adult knowledge had to be poured.

 

Children think differently from adults.

Children, as Piaget showed, think in a way that is qualitatively different from adults.

This seems self-evident to us now, yet before the theory of Jean Piaget permeated the ideas of parents and educators, it was more commonly believed that children were like miniature adults who just needed to receive the knowledge we imparted. So it was that they were seated in straight lines in primary schools, where they wrote in copy books and learnt by rote. To a large extent, they were viewed as empty vessels needing to be filled.

"It’s just that no adult ever had the idea of asking children about conservation. It was so obvious that if you change the shape of an object, the quantity will be conserved. Why ask a child? The novelty lay in asking the question." – Piaget, 1970
“It’s just that no adult ever had the idea of asking children about conservation. It was so obvious that if you change the shape of an object, the quantity will be conserved. Why ask a child? The novelty lay in asking the question.” – Piaget, 1970

Piaget revolutionised our view of children’s minds by challenging the notion of children as passive receivers of adult knowledge. He viewed them instead as “little scientists” who learn by doing, by theorising, by experimenting and by constantly refining their mental constructions, or schemas, of the world.

Piaget’s ideas have been studied, evaluated and questioned for decades. Many aspects of his stage theory of cognitive development have been challenged and disputed. Yet his theory remains as a monumental contribution to our understanding of children and their intriguing “ways of knowing”.

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It’s just that no adult ever had the idea of asking children about conservation. It was so obvious that if you change the shape of an object, the quantity will be conserved. Why ask a child? The novelty lay in asking the question. – Piaget, 1970

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