4 Stages of Intellectual Development In Children

check_icon Research-backed

Intellectual development in children cannot be measured like their physical development using physical measures. However, it is important to understand what intellectual development is to track it in children.

Intellectual development refers to a child’s ability to think and process reasonably. They exhibit a sense of curiosity that drives them to question the world around them and actively search for answers. According to Piaget, a famous psychologist, intellectual development in early childhood can be categorized into four stages.

Read on to learn more about intellectual development, including the different stages of intellectual development in children.

In This Article

What Is Intellectual Development In Children?

Intellectual development happens as children use the experiences they gain
share button

Image: IStock

Intellectual development in children happens quickly using the kind of experiences that they gain. With time and experience, their memory, problem-solving skills, reasoning, and critical thinking abilities get honed and developed.

Types of Intelligence

Psychologist Howard Gardner categorized intelligence into the following distinct types (2).

1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence

  • Well-developed speaking skills and understanding of word sounds, meanings, and rhythms.
  • Enjoying activities like reading, writing, telling stories, or solving word puzzles.

2. Mathematical-logical intelligence

  • Interest in patterns, classifications, and relationships.
  • Drawn to math problems, strategy games, and experiments.

3. Musical intelligence

  • Ability to produce and enjoy rhythms and pitches.
  • Often found singing or drumming to themselves, with a keen grasp of sounds.

4. Visual-spatial intelligence

  • Capacity to think in three dimensions.
  • Fascination with mazes, jigsaw puzzles, drawing, or daydreaming.

5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

  • Capacity to manipulate objects and exhibit various physical skills.
  • Common in athletes, dancers, or those skilled in crafts like sewing or woodworking.

6. Interpersonal intelligence

  • Ability to detect and respond appropriately to others’ moods, reasons, and desires.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence

  • Capacity for self-awareness and attunement to inner feelings, values, beliefs, and thought processes.

8. Naturalist intelligence

  • Ability to recognize and classify animals, plants, and other objects found commonly in nature.

9. Existential intelligence

  • Capacity and insight to address deep questions about human existence, such as morality, human life, and origins.

4 Stages Of Intellectual Development In Children

The cognitive and intellectual development of a child is marked by certain activities and patterns that we can recognize if we know them. There are four distinct stages of intellectual development of a child that Piaget has specified, stated below. Do note that it is essential for parents to pay attention and to follow their child’s development. However, it is also important for parents to remember that each child is different, and children won’t necessarily follow the textbook for each developmental milestone (3) (4).

1. Sensory-Motor Stage:

The first two months are marked by elementary motor movements such as sucking
share button

Image: IStock

This is the period of 0 to 2 years of age where certain activities are observed in a child that marks his or her growth of mental faculties.

  • The first two months are marked by very elementary motor movements such as sucking and grasping. This is the reflexive stage.
  • The next two months are marked by repetitive motions. This is the stage of primary circular reactions.
  • The 4 to 8 months phase sees the child repeating movements with consequence like making a hanging toy over the crib move by touching or kicking it. This is the stage of secondary circular reactions.

Amber Massey, a mother of three, documents her 4-month-old daughter Baker Bree’s progress in toy grasping. She notes, “Baker loves to play this month! I have really noticed a change in her observance of the hanging toys on the play mat as well as her Sophie. We have two of those loud giraffes- one stays at home and one always remains in the diaper bag. She has mastered the grasping of toys and once she gets ahold of the toy it goes straight into her mouth (i).”

  • By the time the child is one year old, you will see his or her movements become more complex. This stage is the coordination of secondary reactions.
  • The next six months will see the child discover new ways to do the same task. You may find your child pulling a pillow to take a toy kept on it without directly taking it.This comprises the tertiary circular reactions.
  • At the age of two years, the child starts to show signs of solving simple activity-related problems mentally before executing the actions. This is the invention of new means through mental combination.

protip_icon Quick fact
Towards the end of this stage, children observe other people and imitate their actions to enact their own desire on the environment (13).

2. Pre-Operational Period:

Children develop language skills between 2 and 4 years
share button

Image: Shutterstock

This early childhood intellectual development phase lasts from 2 to 7 years of age and is marked by the following developments in the child.

  • From the age of 2 to 4 years, language skills of the child develop. His or her speech, however, is not highly logical. The child can recall and talk about objects that are not presently in sight. This is the pre-operational phase.
  • The age from four to seven years sees the child develop his speaking skills. The talk makes more sense and the child is able to recognize and use simple logic.
  • Games with simple rules are comprehensible to the child now. This is the intuitive phase.
protip_icon Did you know?
Children also start “pretend play” or “make-believe” at this stage. This shows their ability to symbolically project an idea onto an object (13).

3. Period Of Concrete Operations:

The intellectual development stage involves the mental growth from 7 to 12 years
share button

Image: Shutterstock

This intellectual child development stage comprises of the mental growth tha taking place in the child from the age of 7 to 12 years and includes development of both logical thinking and analytical thinking.

  • The child’s perception allows them to understand logical patterns and use them effectively. As their mental faculties continue to develop, they can achieve a solid understanding and cognition of what needs to be done for a given task.
  • The child is able to understand categories now and can also solve problems logically and correctly.

4. Period Of Formal Operations:

During teenage, they start to understand and think about abstract concepts
share button

Image: IStock

This is the period of development that takes place from the age of 12 years and above and comprises development of abstract thinking skills.

  • It is in this final stage of intellectual development that the child is able to start understanding and thinking about abstract concepts.
  • Logic and deductive reasoning becomes comprehensible to the child. Complex logical and abstract sequences becomes easy for the child to think about and apply in problem-solving.

A child’s mental agility as well as physical growth is highly accelerated in the initial years of his or her life. You need to remember that every child is different in his own way. Do not put unnecessary pressure on your darling. Let your child develop his skills on his own and enjoy the stages of growth!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What factors can affect a child’s intellectual development?

According to studies, there are three main factors that can affect a child’s intellectual development; nutrition, environment, and maternal-child interactions (5). Inadequate nutrition can result in deficiencies, which may impair mental development. Environmental factors such as malaria, lead exposure, and HIV can contribute towards poor child development. Poor maternal mental health mean depression or anxiety in a child.

2. How do you support a child’s intellectual development?

Creativity and imagination may also play a significant role in the cognitive and intellectual development of a child.To help your child’s intellectual development, you may encourage them to read, play board games, and do jigsaw puzzles. Engaging in a variety of activities can not only stimulate a child’s brain and aid in intellectual development, but also improve their mental flexibility and mental adaptability. Taking them to the library or park can provide learning experiences that can boost mental and physical growth.

3. How can schools and teachers support intellectual development in children?

Schools and teachers are vital in nurturing children’s intellectual growth. They offer valuable discussions and assistance that may be absent at home (6). By promoting effort, growth, and embracing errors, classrooms foster intellectual humility (7). Furthermore, schools aid intellectual development by guiding children’s responses, shaping their identity, fostering introspection, and cultivating their full potential (8).

4. How can technology be used to support intellectual development in children?

Technology aids in children’s intellectual development by offering several benefits. It grants effortless access to information, nurtures creativity, and acquaints them with arts and sciences. Moreover, it enables connections with loved ones, imparts moderation, and fosters autonomous learning. Furthermore, technology fosters community building, advances digital literacy, and enhances hand-eye coordination, language proficiency, and problem-solving aptitude (9).

5. What are some of the potential risks associated with excessive screen time and intellectual development in children?

Excessive screen time in children has the potential to harm their intellectual development. Digital media offers limited stimulation, hindering brain development compared to real-life experiences. Blue light-emitting screens disturb sleep patterns, affecting memory consolidation. Online activities trigger the brain’s reward system, potentially leading to obsessive behavior due to underdeveloped self-control (10).

6. How can parents and caregivers promote critical thinking skills in children?

Parents and caregivers have a vital role in nurturing children’s critical thinking. Effective methods include stimulating curiosity with open-ended queries, offering problem-solving chances, fostering interactive conversations, promoting active reading, and encouraging analytical games. This continuous process demands unwavering support and patience (11).

7. How does intellectual development in children differ from physical development?

Intellectual development in children differs from physical development as it encompasses the enhancement of cognitive abilities rather than observable bodily transformations. While physical development relates to the body’s physical aspects, intellectual development centers on the advancement of thinking, reasoning, and comprehension capacities.

8. Can early childhood education have a significant impact on intellectual development?

Yes, early childhood education can have a significant impact on intellectual development. The brain’s structure is shaped by early experiences. Positive interactions and responsive caregiving aid brain development, while stress hinders learning and behavior. Early interventions are vital for positive results. A comprehensive approach, including emotional, social, cognitive, and language development, equips children for success (12).

Children experience major cognitive, intellectual, and physical developments in their initial growing years. It is essential to provide the appropriate resources and a supportive environment to foster your child’s overall growth. Being aware of the different stages of intellectual development in children can help you monitor them well. Keep in mind that every child is unique, and so is their developmental pattern. Do not push your child too much to meet their milestones; instead, let them learn and understand things on their own while enjoying the stages of growth.

Infographic: Helpful Activities To Promote Cognitive Development In Children

Play is an essential part of every child’s cognitive development. You can engage your child in various activities and exercises as they move through different stages of intellectual development. Give this infographic a read to find the best activities to aid your child’s development.

activities for enchancing cognitive development in children (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Intellectual development of a child can be measured in stages.
  • Stage one and two involve learning communication and developing cognitive and motor skills.
  • The third stage is marked by understanding logic and patterns.
  • The final stage involves complex problem-solving skills and typically occurs after the age of 12.
  • There is no universal scale to measure intellectual development, as every child is unique.
Intellectual Development In Children_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Your baby learns most in the first few months of their life. Learn how to help your baby’s intellectual development from 0 to 6 months. Discover the best activities to stimulate their learning and growth.

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Kim M. Kiely; Cognitive Function.
  2. Multiple Intelligence Theory.
  3. E.Fuller et al.; (2015); Intellectual Need and Problem-Free Activity in the Mathematics Classroom.
  4. What Is Cognitive Development.
  5. Risk factors affecting child cognitive development: A summary of nutrition, environment, and maternal-child interaction indicators for sub-Saharan Africa.
  6. Harvard EdCast: The Intellectual Lives of Children
  7. How Classrooms Can Promote Intellectual Humility—Or Discourage It
  8. How to Help Students Be the Best Version of Themselves
  9. Children and Technology: Positive and Negative Effects
  10. Screen Time and the Brain
  11. Executive function in children: Why it matters and how to help
  12. InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development
  13. Hannah K. Scott et al.; (2023); Piaget
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.