Stage Five: Active Experimentation of Little Scientists (12th through 18th months)

Infants from one year to 18 months of age more actively engage in experimentation to learn about the physical world. Gravity is learned by pouring water from a cup or pushing bowls from high chairs. The caregiver tries to help the child by picking it up again and placing it on the tray. And what happens? Another experiment! The child pushes it off the tray again causing it to fall and the caregiver to pick it up again! A closer examination of this stage causes us to really appreciate how much learning is going on at this time and how many things we come to take for granted must actually be learned. I remember handing my daughters (who are close in age) when they were both seated in the back seat of the car a small container of candy. They struggled to move the pieces up and out of the small box and became frustrated when their fingers would lose their grip on the treats before they made it up and out of the top of the boxes. They had not yet learned to simply use gravity and turn the box over in their hands! This is a wonderful and messy time of experimentation and most learning occurs by trial and error.

Stage Six: Mental Representations (18th month to 2 years of age)

The child is now able to solve problems using mental strategies, to remember something heard days before and repeat it, to engage in pretend play, and to find objects that have been moved even when out of sight. Take for instance, the child who is upstairs in a room with the door closed, supposedly taking a nap. The doorknob has a safety device on it that makes it impossible for the child to turn the knob. After trying several times in vain to push the door or turn the doorknob, the child carries out a mental strategy to get the door opened-he knocks on the door! Obviously, this is a technique learned from the past experience of hearing a knock on the door and observing someone opening the door. The child is now better equipped with mental strategies for problem-solving. This initial movement from the “hands-on” approach to knowing about the world to the more mental world of stage six marked the transition to preoperational intelligence that we will discuss in the next lesson. Part of this stage involves learning to use language.