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Piaget's Views on Middle Childhood

Jean Piaget is a leading theorist in childhood development and his thoughts on the cognitive development stage of middle childhood are worth a closer look.

For Piaget, this stage begins at about the age of seven and lasts for approximately five years, During this third stage of cognitive development, after the preoperational stage, he sees an increase of concrete operations where children begin to solve actual, or concrete, problems.

Piaget lists five examples of tasks that children can do at a higher level during this stage. They involve space, causality, categorization, conservation, as well as number and mathematics.

By space, the meaning is the ability to get from one place to another. The child becomes more familiar of his or her surroundings.

Causality involves cause and effect. The child can better understand how things work, and how an action can affect the end result.

Categorization includes seriation, or the ability to list objects in a series. A second ability is that of transitive inference, which is the ability to recognize a relationship between two objects by being able to tell the difference between the two objects and a third one. Third, the child learns to categorize by class inclusion, also known as the ability to separate the whole from the parts.

These categorical abilities help children to learn to think logically. Inductive and deductive reasoning become realistic capabilities at this stage.

Conservation is the ability to weigh objects in one's head without being deceived by appearances. A child learns that a long slender object can contain the same amount of weight or mass as a smaller, rounder one. Piaget sees an inconsistency with this and reasons it with a term he calls horizontal decalage, stating that children are so focused on their situation that they cannot always transfer what they have learned from one type of conservation to another.

Finally, we come to numbers and mathematics. According to Piaget, children in this stage devise strategies for adding and subtracting, including in story form (i.e. if Joe goes to the market with $10 and spends $4, he has $6 left.) The ability becomes intuitive.

Piaget accounts these changes to neurological growth, as well as culture.

On the topic of moral development, the theorist looks at a two-stage process. The first stage, morality of constraint, has children viewing morality as a one-way street. All issues are seen as totally right or totally wrong, with no in-between. During the second stage, morality of cooperation, the child learns flexibility as they learn new viewpoints. They are able to see other aspects of a situation. Ask a 7th grader if honesty is the best policy and they are capable of telling you it is not always.

Other approaches to cognitive development are introduced in this stage and seem to be based on technology. Piaget introduces the brain as a filing system that encodes, stores, and retrieves. Metamemory and mnemonics, or memory tricks, are introduced (i.e. Every Good Boy Does Fine, headed by words with EGBDF are the same as the keys on the lines of sheet music.)

I see these as relevant points to consider in an educational setting, especially for an elementary school teacher. It is important to understand what a child is capable of doing, and to tailor learning toward these abilities, or lack thereof. My 7th grade question about honesty comes directly from a citywide (Newport News, VA) essay, which I distributed to my own 7th grade English students. To a person, they were able to differentiate telling the truth because it is the right thing to do from not telling the truth because it might harm one's feelings or endanger someone, say in a hostage situation, or as a "snitch."

As a final thought, I do agree with these views of Piaget, but believe that it is also wise to test children by using all of their types of intelligence, using Gardner's learning styles as a base.