Piaget (1952) has written with prolific intensity on the varied stages of child development. As such, his hypotheses discuss four distinguishable development periods, which define the foundation for children’s cognitive growth. The first is the sensory motor stage, from infancy to age eighteen months. This period, as Piaget explains, is the one wherein the world of the infant revolves around his or her relationship to sight, sound, and smell, combined with physical movement. Piaget’s stages are systematic, when grouping children by age.
As children develop chronologically, they likewise mature intellectually, emotionally, and socially. This is supported by Maslow (1959), Vygotsky, (1976), and Kohlberg (1958). According to Abraham Maslow (1959,1973a,1973b,1987), with his extensive research on the Hierarchy of Needs; human beings use this hierarchy to provide understanding of their decision-making and to illustrate what fundamental needs contribute to their related decisions. Unlike Piaget, however, Maslow’s hierarchy was not dependent upon a chronological order of development. It was based instead, upon the chronological order of Piaget’s children’s development, in which there appears to be evidence of a relationship between the maturation stages and Maslow’s identified needs. Relating Maslow’s hierarchy to Piaget’s stages may link developmental milestones to support Kohlberg’s (1952) moral development, as the impetus for leadership skills in children. Piaget’s sensory motor stage can be equated to both the need for safety and the additional necessity for love, affection, and belonging (Maslow, 1952). Love, according to Maslow, is a basic need of all humanity. Human beings, therefore, from infancy on, need to experience love at each stage of their development. This social need, from the onset of life, is scientifically agreed upon to be as equally important as nutrition and safety. It can then be concluded then, that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs justifiably correlates with all of Piaget’s stages of development; yet, not in the same specific order.
Piaget’s second stage (occurring at approximately 18 months, to age 2, and estimated to commence through age 6 to 7 years) is called the pre-operational period. During this stage, children begin the imitation of language, while exploring their environment. Maslow’s (1959, 1973a, 1973b, 1987) Hierarchy of Needs correlates to this stage, since imitation of language begins the orientation of social needs. This developmental skill enables children to verbally explore their environment, while they use that stage as a motivation for cognition. The initial need for exploring their environment is physiological, which becomes the foundation for motivation and learning (Piaget, 1952).
The third stage, concrete operations, occurring between ages 7 to 8 and continuing through approximately age 11 or 12, this is the stage during which the child is specifically moving through the world, as (s)he relates to objects. During the stage of concrete operations, children use the process of trial and error in order to solve problems. Children of this age (and stage) generally do not yet have the ability to be analytical. Piaget, however, discusses these children’s nascent interest in understanding the classification of objects and order, as the impetus for their budding powers of reasoning.
Maslow’s (1959, 1973a, 1973b, 1987) hierarchy supports Piaget’s theory on children’s interest in understanding the classification of objects; while Adair (2006) interprets Maslow’s hierarchy (as related to Piaget’s concrete operational stage) as defining the child’s sense of curiosity and cognition. This is the motivation behind his or her potential for intellectual reasoning.
The fourth developmental plateau (as defined by Piaget) is characterized as formal operations. It is frequently identified to occur between the ages of 11 to 12 and is most likely concluded around ages 13 to 15. During this stage, most children attempt to exhibit their independence, through analyzing problems.
Again, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy, once children’s fundamental needs are met, most can capably advance to more intricate concepts of esteem, related to such needs as “achievement, adequacy, mastery and competence” (Adair, 2006, p.53). Piaget (1952) explains this formal operations stage in relation to mathematical problem solving. He used algebraic equations to describe the formal operations stage. Vygotsky (1976) explains the significance of Piaget’s formulated stages; but he equally stresses the salience of acknowledging the errors children make, as they progress through their consecutive stages. Finally, Vygotsky weighs in on the importance of all the stages, as part of the growing child’s everyday experience. These stages, it is agreed, however, do not warrant systematic instruction.
Piaget (1954) discusses the child’s developmental stages as a slow growth process that varies from child to child. He refers to his identified and defined stages as a set of patterns. Indicative of most children’s progress, these patterns have a logical sequence and development, such as the acquisition of language, or the ability to play, which fall within the developmental stages.
Carpendale (2000) stressed Piaget’s belief that the child’s growth stages do not need to be in specific order. Children maneuver through the stages, according to Carpendale’s interpretation, within their own uniquely individual time frame. Yet, this general time frame is the infrastructure for understanding how children think, how they respond to various stimuli in their world, and how their judgments or decisions for themselves are formed. Lawrence Kohlberg (1952) uses Piaget’s stages as his understructure for examining moral development in children. Although Kohlberg’s (1981) philosophy of moral development originates from Kant and Socrates, Piaget’s stages are intertwined with how Kohlberg explains and discusses his theory of moral development.
The subsequent section of literature expounds upon and additionally clarifies the concepts of Kohlberg’s (1981) moral development theory. Further, it identifies the basics of how children make decisions, dependant upon their personal views of virtue and justice.