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The Gurus of Child Development

By August 27, 2018September 19th, 2018No Comments

By Julia Yaremchuk, M.S.

In the world of where child development has been investigated, researched and massively studied, it is a phenomena that the works of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky which were formulated over one hundred years ago are still prevalent and used across the globe to build schools, childcare centers and appropriate practice guideless in working with children. The theories of two of these world-renowned men have been topics of discussion and argument for years, yet understanding their theories allows professionals to have a better litmus exam for children who are under their care. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky are gurus of child development because the studies and research materials which they have produced have allowed teachers and parents alike to see the growth and development of children through lenses which help explain behavior, habits and most importantly appropriate settings to help foster and ignite the light of learning.

Jean Piaget based his research in a topical matter. His theories and ideas focused on a consecutive coursework of ideas and had an order format. First children have building blocks of knowledge already innate in them, which Piaget called “schemas.” “In more simple terms Piaget called the schema the basic building block of intelligent behavior-a way of organizing knowledge” (McLeod, 2009). Then children would “assimilate” this new knowledge and learn how to deal with a new topic or situation. However if a child was faced with a situation never recognized before then the child would “accommodate” to the new situation. For example a child has seen his mother point to their household pet, “Charlie” who is a dog and say “dog.” The child visits the house of his grandmother, who has a pet cat, upon seeing the cat, the child assimilates his prior knowledge, points to the animal and says “dog,” however his grandmother takes the child to the cat and holds the cat to show the characteristic differences of the two animals and says this is a “cat.” The child accommodates the new information and realizes the differences between the animals and repeats “cat” to his grandmother. Thus, Jean Piaget built his theory in a consecutive format with one stage being formed prior to having a child develop into the next stage. Children from birth to two years old are in the sensorimotor stage which is an interactive period with the surrounding environment using senses. “Auditory localization, turning the head toward the sound, and visual pursuit, visually following objects, are precursors to object permanence” (Raver, 2009, p.154). The next stage in the theory of Piaget is called preoperational, in which children two to seven years old learn to pretend play, problem solve, classify, form a concept vocabulary and begin seriation. Concrete operational is the stage from eight years to twelve years of age for children. “Elementary school children are more abstract in their thinking. They can use early logic to solve problems and are less fooled by perception” (Smith, 2010, p.50). The last stage of the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget is called formal operational and this last stage begins from age twelve and is on-going through adulthood. This is where abstract thinking occurs and higher-level logical sense is formed.

Lev Vygotsky believed that cognitive development is a formation which is aided by the social world and those who are around the child during his or her developmental process. His theory is called the sociocultural theory because children as he believed do not grow based on periods but rather are factors in their world of culture in which their upbringing is held. “To Vygotsky, language and thinking are, at first, separate processes” (Smith, 2010, p.53). The child begins to babble and then repeats what he or she hears from the adults that he or she is surrounded by thus objects begin to have names. Vygotsky focused his theory more on a language approach in which children simply form names for objects, then use the names to form ideas and then thinking is shown to develop by the language skills that are gained in the years to come. “Vygotsky’s theory contains practical ideas for promoting intellectual development. He proposes that teachers and parents scaffold children’s learning-that is, use language and other social interactions to guide thinking” (Smith, 2010, p.53). This thinking processes of children is guided by the “zone of proximal development” which is a difficult tasks which a child cannot overcome by himself and is thus guided by an adult and allows the child to develop skills to further solve such problems independently.

The similarities between the sociocultural theory of Vygotsky and the cognitive development theory of Piaget can be noted with the formation of thoughts and development in children through the interaction of external factors. For Piaget, the external factors are physical interactions of the child with his world, where the external factors for Vygotsky are the social interactions of the child with his world. Both Vygotsky and Piaget agree that children go through faces of concrete to non-concrete ideas to form knowledge, yet the theorist differ in the way children get these skills. For Vygotsky it is through the help of adults and for Piaget it is through operations with certain objects.

Children learn differently and deal with issues differently, thus the importance of differentiation is crucial in guiding learning. The gurus of child development, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky propose very different methods of understanding and developing children in the world of education. However, both theories are commonly used in early childhood and elementary school settings to promote learning. By gaining a better understanding of these theories, teachers and parents alike can formulate guided assignments and tasks to facilitate cognitive development. For example, with the use of the theory of Lev Vygotsky, a teacher can role-model how other children play to a child who may not behave appropriately thus teaching the child through scaffolding appropriate peer interactions. With the use of the works of Jean Piaget, a teacher can create a setting where children learn to pretend play outside with rocks and leaves, creating a story of how each items symbolically represents a character or an item in the story. Educators can use the stages of cognitive development of Piaget to monitor children and the way they learn, along with guiding learning of Vygotsky with the interaction of the outside world and creating zones of proximal development, in which children go from simple problem-solving tasks to more difficult tasks of difficulty.


Lourenco, O. (2012). Piaget and Vygotsky: Many resemblances and crucial differences.


McLeod, S. (2009). Jean Piaget. Simply Psychology, 1-12.


McLeod, S. (2007). Lev Vygotsky. Simply Psychology, 1-11.


Raver, S.A. (2009). Early Childhood Special Education- 0 to 8 Years. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.


Smith, J.T. (2010). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.

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