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Jean Piaget describes four stages of children’s thinking. During each stage, children’s thinking evolves as they construct an understanding of people, objects, and real life experiences. Between the ages of 6-8 most children move from pre-operational to concrete-operational thinking.
Pre-Operational Thinking: Children rely principally on sensory experience for reflecting and acquiring knowledge. Their perceptions are based on first hand experiences. They tend to be more interested in “the process” than “the product.”
Concrete-Operational Thinking: Children begin to classify in terms of hierarchical relationships (e.g., both fish and birds are animals). They explore objects visually rather than manually. Most first and second grade children have the capacity for abstract thinking as long as it pertains to something they have directly experienced. They are able to make comparisons with their own experiences. Although they learn best through concrete experiences, they can utilize books as an additional source of information. While these children have a deepening ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, they enjoy pretending and acting out stories.
Many factors influence a child’s ability to acquire critical thinking skills, and all of them have a profound impact on the child’s perceptions. Some include:
It is important to understand child development and to recognize each child’s individual characteristics and cultural background when planning learning activities that enable children to “make sense of their world.” Children develop the skills necessary to solve real life problems and become better prepared to think for themselves when they are exposed to experiences that: 1) spark interst and curiosity, 2) integrate learning experiences, and 3) structure their thinking. As children gain confidence in their ability to reason, check, build connections, make representations, and communicate their ideas with others, they assume more responsibility for their own thinking.
Planning integrated units based upon developmentally appropriate process skills enables teachers to teach core concepts in far greater depth and with natural connections between content areas. Process skills by nature are cross-curricular and promote reading, writing, and math concepts. The following process skills are emphasized in the early childhood classroom.
*Refer to the Process Skill Planning Form (pdf) for help planning integrated units based on developmentally appropriate process skills.