What Does Intellectual Development Mean?

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Intellectual development refers to a person’s growing ability to learn in relation to the world around him or her. Intellectual development is characterized by four stages.

Intellectual development measures how individuals learn to think and reason for themselves in relation to the world around them. Intellectual development starts early from the time a child is born. As a child grows, intellectual development continues whether it’s evident or not. It’s important to foster intellectual development all throughout life. A child’s intellectual development can be monitored by watching the child’s activities. Parents and scientists use certain markers or benchmarks to determine if a child is progressing intellectually. Most medical professionals recognize theorist Jean Piaget’s four stages of intellectual development. All children develop at different rates, so the age ranges given below are meant to give a indication of when these stages generally occur.

Sensorimotor Stage This stage occurs from the time a child is born until he or she becomes a toddler at two years old. During this stage, a child’s experiences with the world are based on his or her five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting) and motor skills. During the first two months of life, the child is grasping and sucking. These are called elementary motor movements. After this stage, the child graduates to repetitive motor movements. Actions such as touching and kicking are used to gauge whether the child is developing at the average rate. The main accomplishment in this stage is understanding that an object that has gone out of view still exists, which is called object permanence. By the time the child reaches the end of this stage, he or she is showing signs of being able to solve problems.

Preoperational Stage This stage is characterized by intellectual development in early childhood during the ages of two through seven. At this stage, a child builds language skills. From the ages of two to four, logical reasoning is not at its height, yet a child can speak and be understood by those around him or her. From the ages of four to seven, a child’s speech becomes more developed. He or she begins to use simple reasoning while talking and can participate in games that have simple rules. A major milestone of this stage is being able to understand things from another person’s point of view, called theory of mind.

Concrete Operational Stage This stage in a child’s intellectual development occurs from the ages of seven to 11. At this stage, a child starts to understand logical patterns. The child’s cognitive skills are developed and help to form a solid understanding of different subjects. Since the child’s intellectual development has progressed, he or she is capable of solving problems completely and accurately. With a sharper cognitive focus, children at this stage are able to understand why processes happen. They can also understand processes that are only imagined instead of seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled.

Formal Operational Stage This stage happens from the age of 12 and on. At this stage, cognitive focus is heightened, and a person is able to understand abstract concepts. Children can solve abstract problems using information and context, meaning that not all of a problem’s components need to be present in order to solve it. Many of these components are inferred, requiring a person to logically deduce answers. Children and adults build on the intellectual development that occurs here for the rest of their lives.