4 Stages of Intellectual Development In Children

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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 things reasonably. They begin to question the things around them and seek 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.

What Is Intellectual Development In Children?

Intellectual development happens as children use the experiences they gain

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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 thinking abilities get honed and developed.

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 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.

1. Sensory-Motor Stage:

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

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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.
  • 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.
Quick fact
Towards the end of this stage, children observe other people and imitate their actions to enact their own desire on the environment (4).

2. Pre-Operational Period:

Children develop language skills between 2 and 4 years

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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.
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 (4).

3. Period Of Concrete Operations:

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

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This intellectual child development stage comprises of the mental growth taking place in the child from the age of 7 to 12 years.

  • The child is now able to understand logical patterns and also use them. The mental faculties are now taking a turn towards solid understanding and cognition of what is to be done for what.
  • 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

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

  • 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 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 is the difference between intellectual and cognitive ability?

Children’s intellectual ability aids them in learning and grasping things in a particular scenario. In contrast, cognitive ability is a broader term that includes complex mental processes involved in acquiring, processing, and reasoning skills (1).

2. What are examples of intellectual needs?

Types of intellectual needs (concerning problem-solving) in mathematics include needs for certainty, causality, computation, communication, connection, and structure (2).

3. Why is intellectual development important for my child?

Intellectual development in children is essential because it defines the way they think and understand things around them. It also aids in developing vital skills such as creative thinking and problem-solving (3).

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


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. E.Fuller et al.; (2015); Intellectual Need and Problem-Free Activity in the Mathematics Classroom.
  3. What Is Cognitive Development.
  4. Hannah K. Scott and Mark Cogburn; (2022); Piaget.

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