Cognitive abilities to retrieve immediate knowledge and experience of the pre -operational child (age 2 – 6)
The project is based on Piaget’s stage theory of cognitive development
Based on Piaget’s theory, children during the pre – operational stage have acquired the ability to stand apart and view themselves from another person’s perspective. They are able to describe themselves as different from other children by listing their unique characteristics, especially the fact that their names are different. They develop a more complex understanding of themselves, such as age, name, family etc.. During the same stage children become aware of and use gender as a dimension by which to classify people. Once children become aware of their own sex, they learn to label themselves as boy or girl. Early childhood is the time when children start to learn family values, and become a cooperative part of the family with their own responsibilities. They spend countless hours of play and other activities with their siblings. Although young children may use words reflecting an understanding of time, such as minute, hour, day, or week, they still confuse the concept of time and space.
Based on Piaget’s theory, I believe that the interviewed children will know their age, name, gender, and their siblings. I do not expect to know their exact birthday and address because it is still too abstract for them. Furthermore, I do not expect that the background/culture is influencing the children’s answers to my questions. I believe that all four tested children do understand and are able to answer my questions.
Interviewing four children from different backgrounds was the method use to
assess the children’s cognitive development. The four-year-old identical twin girls were interviewed in the living room of their parents’ house. Each girl was interviewed separately. The five-year-old German boy was interviewed by phone, and the six year old Asian – American boy was interviewed at the neighborhood playground. Each interview took approximately 10 minutes.
Hanna:4 years old, female, white, American, has an identically twin sister and a younger sister.
Emma:4 years old, female, white, American, Hanna’s twin. Hanna and Emma are not going to school yet. They are staying with a nanny and their younger sister at home, while both parents are working.
Max – Raphael:5 years old, male, white, German, youngest of three children,
parents are divorced, living with mother and older sisters, no contact with father,
staying home with mother.
Timothy:6 years old, Asian – American, oldest of two boys, bilingual, living with
both parents, going to a private Christian school.
1. Name:“Tell me your name.” If child gave only the first name: “What is the rest
2. Age:“How old are you?” If fingers shown: “How many does that make?”
If still no answer, let the child count fingers.
3. Sex/Gender:“Are you a boy or a girl?”
4. Siblings:“Do you have any brothers and / or sisters?”
“What are their names?”
“How old are they?”
5. Birthday:“When is your birthday?”
6. Address:“Where are you living?”
Hanna and Emma were both able to give me their names immediately. They also knew their age, gender, and they were able to name and give me the age of their sister. However, they did not know their address or birthday. I did not have to tease the answer out bit by bit. They were ready to give me a concrete answer. The answers I got from both were short and specific.
Max – Raphael knew his name, age, sex, and was able to name and give the age of his sisters. He, like Hanna and Emma, did not know his address and birthday. Max – Raphael gave me his age, gender, and his sisters’ name and age immediately, but I had to ask him about his surname.
Timothy could answer every question. His answers were concrete and given readily. I did not have to tease any question out of him.
The results support my prediction in most points. All children were able to give me their age, gender, sex, and the name and age of their siblings. I was not too sure if Timothy would be able to give me his correct birthday and address, although he is already attending school.
The study is only based on four pre – operational children but the results show that there are no major differences cross – culturally in the children’s knowledge and experience. The five-year-old German boy knew as much as the four-year-old American girls. The fact that the six year old Asian – American was able to give me his address and birthday might be due to the fact that he is the only one in the study who is already attending school. It is also possible that the parents of the three other children never thought it is necessary to teach them the address because the children are not yet leaving home unattended, and are spending most of their time at home. Knowing the address becomes more an issue when children are attending school because it is the first time when they are more or less on their own, without their parents. For children in school, knowing their birthday and address becomes more important because of the interaction and socializing with a lot of other children; for example, many schools celebrate birthdays.
I doubt that children in the pre – operational stage, especially if they are not attending school, understand the concept of age because they emphasize too much on visual inputs, they confuse age with height. Piaget said, “physical time of young children is at first nothing other than egocentric time, the projection of inner time into external objects based on their egocentrism.” Furthermore, age and numbers are related to logic and pre – operational children do not think in logical terms. Although the interviewed children knew their age, most likely because their parents told them though, they would, in my opinion, fail to answer questions like: “how old are you going to be in two years, or how old were you last year?” One reason for failing to answer these questions might be the lack of memory. The children cannot, are not able to think backwards, for example they are not able to solve the conservation test. Children in the pre – operational stage are also not able to plan or think about the future. Moreover, children do not internalize events by the real order of time. Events are linked together on the basis of personal interests. “Children project inner time to external objects, and they confuse age with height (age is equivalent to growing)”, as Piaget concluded.
Although children might not understand the concept of age, it is till possible for them to know it because other people focus a lot on it. The first questions are always about the name and age. The easiest way to classify people is to put them into categories by their age, gender, and name. I am not surprised that these results show a culturally universal ability to answer my questions because all questions were within the realm of the child’s immediate knowledge and experience; at least for Western Cultures which emphasize on questions about the name, age, gender, and family. In Western Cultures the knowledge about these things is an important part of one’s own concept of self.
It is amazing to look back over these short interviews to see how fully the children have revealed themselves. Some children had their answers at their tongue’s tip, ready to give, whereas with others some items had to be teased out bit by bit. It is also amazing to see that the development is cross – culturally universal, that a child in Germany knows as much as the child at a similar age in America.
I suggest further testing on questions like:
“Do schools contribute to children’s cognitive development?”
“Do pre – operational children understand the concept of age?”
“Does bilingualism have influence on cognitive abilities?”
“Does gender influence cognitive abilities or skills, is there a difference between girls and boys?”
“Is there a difference in cognitive development / abilities between children in highly industrialized societies versus nonindustrialized societies?
von Gormly, Anne. “Lifespan Human Development,” Sixth edition: pp. 168 – 184 and 206 – 213.
Piaget, Jean. “The Conception of Age,” Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1969 Chapter III, ”Age and Inner Time”, pp. 197 – 229
Bee, Helen. “The Developing Child,” 9th Edition, Allen and Bacon, pp.164 – 193
Dasen, Pierre R. “Piagetian Psychology – Cross – Cultural Contributions,” Gardner Press, Inc. New York, 1977