Cognitive Stages for Child Development

In 1952, French Psychologist Jean Piaget published a theory that the cognitive development of children occurs in four distinct stages, with each stage building upon the last and characterized by higher levels of sophistication and thought.

Piaget’s stages were groundbreaking. Before his influential theory changed the way people viewed childhood development, it was believed that babies were without cognition until they were old enough to develop language.

Here are Piaget’s four cognitive stages during childhood development:

  1. Sensorimotor Stage: Birth through about 2 years. During this stage, children learn about the world through their senses and the manipulation of objects.
  2. Preoperational Stage: Ages 2 through 7. During this stage, children develop memory and imagination. They are also able to understand things symbolically, and to understand the ideas of past and future.
  3. Concrete Operational Stage. Ages 7 through 11. During this stage, children become more aware of external events, as well as feelings other than their own. They become less egocentric, and begin to understand that not everyone shares their thoughts, beliefs, or feelings.
  4. Formal Operational Stage. Ages 11 and older. During this stage, children are able to use logic to solve problems, view the world around them, and plan for the future.

Cognitive stages for child development as defined in the Information Processing Model

Another way to look at cognitive stages for child development is to use The Information Processing Model. Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, this model tracks the development of cognitive skills including attention, short term memory, long term memory, logic & reasoning, and auditory processing.

According to the Information Processing Model:

  1. Ages 2 through 5: Children develop attention skills, short-term memory, and long-term memory
  2. Ages 5 through 7: Children develop better control over attention, memory, and problem-solving skills, and are able to use their cognitive abilities to attain goals or solve problems. Logic & reasoning also develops further as children are able to make connections between ideas. Auditory processing, a skill that is foundational for reading, is also developing during this time frame.

Cognitive skills are the skills the brain uses to think, learn, read, remember, pay attention, and solve problems. They are also the skills that are measured to determine IQ.

All cognitive profiles do not look the same. Everyone has some skills that are stronger than others. Here’s an example of cognitive profiles of three children:

Cognitive Skills Profile of 3 Children

These children, ages 7 through 13, came to LearningRx because they were struggling with attention, memory, or keeping up with schoolwork/homework. A comprehensive Cognitive Assessment pinpointed the weak skills at the root of their struggles.

The good news is that cognitive skills are not set in stone. If weak skills are identified, they can be strengthened through cognitive training, often called brain training. Brain training uses fun, challenging mental exercises to target and improve weak cognitive skills.

Here, for example, is a look at Child A’s cognitive performance before and after brain training. The chart on the left shows how this child was performing before cognitive training. The chart on the right shows the improvement in each skill after cognitive training (the green bars show “before training” and the purple bars show how that same skill performed “after training”).

Cognitive Skills Profile and Pre and Post Brain Training Percentile Scores

(Naturally, these are the scores of one child, and may or may not reflect the improvements you or your child might achieve. To get a broader picture of what cognitive training can do, you can download average before-and-after scores of 17,998 children and adults at

Assessing cognitive development in children

If your child is struggling with learning, reading, attention, or memory, the next step is to find out why. A Cognitive Assessment takes about an hour and will give you a detailed look at how your child is performing cognitively, and will identify specific strengths and weaknesses.

Call a LearningRx brain training center near you and schedule a time for your child to take the assessment.