Piaget’s theory of cognitive development explained how a child’s ability to think progresses through a series of distinct stages as they mature. Piaget believed that these stages were maturational. That is, development is genetic and largely unaffected by environmental factors. Cognitive theory examines internal mental representations such as sensation, reasoning, thinking and memory. Cognition involves how children and adults go about representing, organizing, treating, and transforming information that in turn alters behaviour.

Cognitive learning theorists say that the human capacity to use symbols affords us a powerful means for comprehending and dealing with our environment. Symbols allow us to represent events; analyze our conscious experience; communicate with others; plan, create, imagine; and engage in foresightful action. Piaget believed that children are naturally curious. They constantly want to make sense of their experience and, in the process, construct their understanding of the world. For Piaget, children at all ages are like scientists in that they create theories about how the world works.

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Of course, children’s theories are often incomplete. Nevertheless, children’s theories are valuable to them because they make the world seem more predictable. Cognitive learning and information-processing theorists’ findings suggest that mental schemas function as selective mechanisms that influence the information individuals attend to, how they structure information, how important it is to them, and what they do with information. According to Piaget, children understand the world with schemes, psychological structures that organize experience.

Schemes are mental categories related events, objects and knowledge. A scheme is an organized pattern of action or thought. It is a broad concept and can refer to organized patterns of physical action (such as an infant reaching to grasp an object), or mental action (such as high school student thinking about how to solve an algebra problem). While according to (Anon) a schema describes both the mental and physical actions involved in understanding and knowing. Schemas are categories of knowledge that helps us to interpret and understand the world.

In Piaget’s view, a schema includes both a category of knowledge and the process of obtaining that knowledge. As experience happen, this new information is used to modify, add to, or change previously existing schemas. Cook & Cook (2005) state the children interact with the environment, individual schemes become modified, combined and reorganized to form more complex cognitive structures. As children mature, these structures allow more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking. These in turn, allow interacting in qualitatively different ways with their environment.

For example, a little girl develops a scheme for noticing similarities between objects (we’ll call this a “compare: scheme) and a separate one for noticing differences (a contrast scheme). Gradually, she coordinates and combines the two into a single cognitive structure that allows her to compare and contrast objects at the same time. When she encounters a new object, she uses this coordinated cognitive structure to develop a fuller understanding of the object. The first time she encounters an avocado, for example, she can compare and contrast it other foods.

This process will help her determine what kind of food it is and will increase her understanding of the overall category (similar in size to orange, similar in colour to a lime, different in texture from an apple). Cognitive structures not only organize existing knowledge but also serve as filters for all new experiences. That is, we interpret new experiences in light of our already existing cognitive structures. Because no two cognitive structures ever are exactly the same, and no two people ever interpret events in exactly the same way.

The way you interpret and understand the information you’re learning about Piaget’s is different (at least slightly) from way your classmates understand it, because each of you filters and interprets the information through a different cognitive structure. Another example, a child may have a schema about a type of animal, such as a dog. If the child’s sole experience has been with small dogs, a child might believe that all dogs are small, furry, and have four legs. Suppose then that the child encounters very large dogs. The child will take in this new information, modifying the previously existing schema to include this new information.

Thus, schemas of related objects, events and ideas are present throughout development. But as children develop, their rules for creating schemas shift from physical activity to functional, conceptual, and, later abstract properties of objects, events and ideas.  In Piaget's terminology, applying the scheme to a new situation is called assimilation. Schemas change constantly, adapting to children’s experiences. In fact intellectual adaption involves two processes working together: assimilation and accommodation.

He would say that assimilate the June bug or the hornet landing on my arm to the swatting scheme. Assimilation occurs when the perception of a new event or object occurs to the learner in an existing, schema and is usually used in the context of self motivation. The process is somewhat subjective, because we tend to modify experience or information somewhat to fit in with our pre existing beliefs. In example above, seeing a dog and labelling it “dog” is an example of assimilating the animal into the child’s dog schema. Assimilation, as we have just seen, doesn't always work.

Under such circumstances of failure, the adaptive thing to do would be modify my scheme (in some cases, I might have to go further and introduce an entirely new one). In this case, I might differentiate between flying things that don't have conspicuous stingers attached to them and those that do, and continue to use my swatting scheme only when I encounter the non-stinging variety. Whereas, if the flying thing has a conspicuous stinging module on its rear end, I will apply a different scheme for instance, acting calm, making no quick movements, and waiting for the thing to lose interest and fly away.

Regarding Anon (2011) in assimilation is perceived in the outside world is incorporated into the internal world without changing the structure of that internal world, but potentially at the cost of squeezing the external perceptions to fit – hence pigeon – holing and stereotyping. If it comes across new information which fits into those fields, it can assimilate it without any trouble. Assimilation is a term referring to another part of the adaption process initially proposed by Jean Piaget. Through assimilation, we take in new information or experiences and incorporate them into our existing ideas.

The process is somewhat subjective, because we tend to modify experience or information somewhat to fit our pre-existing beliefs. Piaget believed that there are two basic ways that we can adapt to new experiences and information. Assimilation is the easiest method because it does not require a great deal of adjustment. Through this process, add new information to existing knowledge base, sometimes reinterpreting these new experiences so that they will fit previously existing information. Assimilation is like adding air into a balloon. You just keep blowing it up. It gets bigger and bigger.

For example, a two year old schema of a tree is "green and big with bark" over time the child adds information (some trees lose their leaves, some trees have names, we use a tree at Christmas, etc. ) Your balloon just gets full of more information that fits neatly with what you know and adds onto it. Another example is a child believes that "All furry four legged animals are dogs". He sees a breed of dog that he's never seen before and says, "That's a dog. " Right now, the similar instant as let’s imagine that your neighbours have a daughter who you have always known to be sweet, polite and kind.

One day, you glance out your window and see the girl throwing something at your car. It seems out of character and rather rude, not something you would expect from this girl. How do you interpret this new information? If you use the process of assimilation, you might dismiss the girl’s behaviour, believing that maybe it’s something she witnessed a classmate doing and that she doesn’t mean it to be impolite. If you were to utilize the second method of adaptation described by Piaget, the young girl’s behaviour might cause you to re-evaluate your opinion of her.

This process is what Piaget referred to as accommodation, in which old ideas are changed or even replaced based on new information. In each of these examples, the individual is adding information to their existing schema. Remember, if new experiences cause the person to alter or completely change their existing beliefs, then it is known as accommodation. Accommodation occurs when schemas are modified based on experience. Piaget then claimed that we try to understand new experiences by assimilating them into the schemes or cognitive structures that we already have.

If the assimilation does not work completely, there is an imbalance between the new experience and the old scheme. Piaget described this imbalance as a state of cognitive disequilibrium. To resolve the disequilibrium, we accommodate, or adjust, our schemes to provide a better fit for the new experience. If we successful, we achieve cognitive equilibrium. Equilibrium therefore is the dynamic process of moving between states of cognitive disequilibrium as we assimilate new experiences and accommodate schemes. Because of the process of organization, we are never satisfied with equilibrium.

We stretch and extend our cognitive structures by assimilating new and challenging information. According to Piaget, the tendency to seek equilibrium is always present, we are constantly seeking to understand, but equilibrium is a dynamic process and is never fully achieved. In other words, although we certainly have periods when we understand and deal effectively with the environment, we never attain perfect, complete, and permanent understanding of everything. Piaget believed that the normal state of mind is one of disequilibrium or rather a state of moving equilibrium.

Accommodation one accommodates the experience according to the outcome of the tasks. The highest form of development is equilibration. Equilibration encompasses both assimilation and accommodation as the learner changes their way of thinking in order to arrive at a correct or different answer. This is upper level of development. Changing the scheme to get it to work better, or fit the environment better, Piaget calls accommodation. It can accommodate by restricting old swatting scheme and introducing that move carefully and wait scheme to contend with flying insects that sting.

Accommodation involves altering existing schemas, or ideas, as a result of new information or new experiences, new schemas may also be developed during this process. In accommodation the internal world has to accommodate itself to the evidence with which it is confronted and thus adapt to it, which can be more difficult and painful process. In the database analogue, it is like what happens when you try to put in information which does not fit the pre-existent fields and categories.

In reality, both are going on at the same time, so that just as the mower blade cuts the grass gradually blunts the blade, although most of the time we are assimilating familiar material in the world around us, nevertheless, our minds are also having to adjust to accommodate it. For example in the “clown” incident, the boy’s father explained to his son the man was not a clown and that even though his hair was like a clown’s, he wasn’t wearing a funny costume and wasn’t doing silly things to make people laugh. With this knowledge, the boys was able to change his schema of “clown” and make this idea fit better to a standard concept of “clown”.

Accommodation is when you have to turn your round balloon into the shape of a poodle. This new balloon "animal" is a radical shift in your schema (or balloon shape). The tree example works well where we live so I go with that, but you can invent your own. Now that they are in college in the redwood forest, we have conceptualization (schema) of trees as a source of political warfare, a commodity, a source of income for some people, we know that people sit and live in trees to save them; in other words, trees are economic, political, and social vehicles.

This complete change in the schema involves a lot of cognitive energy, or accommodation, a shift in our schema. The comparison of example between assimilation and accommodation is when a child learns the word for dogs, they start to call all four legged animals dogs. This is assimilation. People around them will say no that not a dog, it’s a cat. The schema for dogs then gets modified to restrict it to only certain four legged animals. That is accommodation.