Tertiary Circular Reactions (A 5 point Guide)

According to Piaget, Tertiary Circular Reactions is one of the substages of sensorimotor stage It was suggested by the theory of Piaget that there are four different stages of cognitive development through which a child’s progress takes place.

There are many aspects in these stages of mental development which includes morals, memory, reasoning and language.

It was argued by Piaget that children tend to play their role actively in this cognitive development gaining knowledge with their interaction in their environment with the people around.

In this article we will discuss Tertiary Circular Reactions. 

Sensorimotor Stage

In Piaget’s theory of cognitive development the earlier stage is the sensorimotor stage.

Piaget argued that this time span is of immense importance as this the time for change and growth.

Kids start utilizing their inborn abilities and skills, for example, sucking, looking, listening and grasping at this earlier stage of their development in order to know more about their surroundings.

We can also say that kids start to see the world and get knowledge with the help of their motor movements and their senses.

Children get to know more about their environment through trial and error.

This stage was named as sensorimotor stage by the Piager as a child gains the knowledge of the world around him through using his senses and motor movements.

The inborn skills of a child are his five senses which are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.

These senses are combined with his physical skills which keep on to grow.

These physical abilities are touching, grasping and tasting which enable a child to be able to interrelate and erect awareness of himself and the world around him. 

When a child interrelates to his surroundings he goes through an amazing cognitive growth in a very smaller time span.

The time of sensorimotor stage is from the day of birth to the age of two years.

It is important to understand all stages of sensorimotor stage to get understanding of Tertiary circular reactions

Substages of the sensorimotor stage

The Sensorimotor period is divided into different sub stages by Piaget which include particular milestones of a child’s development. 


At this substage an infant will only be usually responsive through his reflexes. He will respond with his physical abilities of touching, crying, sometimes smiling, grasping and sucking.

All these habits with the passage of time will turn out to be intentional. 

Primary circular reactions

The period of this stage consists of a time span of one and four months.

At this stage the infant starts making some particular moves for the sake of his own pleasure and comfort.

If an infant is making a specific movement or a sound without any meaningful notion then he is enjoying his movements or sound he is making and he will do it repetitively.

The common behaviors which a child may demonstrate at this stage of his development are kicking, smiling intentionally , thumb sucking and cooing.

It may lead the parents to sleep deprivation but these enormously adorable moments are enjoyable too. 

Secondary circular reactions

This stage of development starts at the age of four months and lasts till the age of eight months.

At this stage the little kid will start to make use of different things in order to gain the understanding of his environment around him.

Usually, this process starts accidentally but if the child finds this enjoyable to use his abilities to make things happen he will keep on doing such activities repeatedly.

The kid possibly will start throwing or dropping his toys, shaking the rattle, banging different things with others to produce delighted noises.

Child will be capable of making many other noises on his own.

For instance he will be laughing, making sounds like a speech and using different noises to express his pleasure, displeasure and excitement.

Coordinating secondary circular reactions

This stage starts from the age of eight months and lasts till the age of one year.

At this stage a child will be able to start combining his skills which he has learnt with his reflexes to accomplish his own goals. For instance, he will be able to start crawling, picking and throwing their toys.

At this stage a child starts planning and coordinating his actions being responsive to his thoughts.

  • A child may also start:
  • Enjoying playing games
  • Turning back and looking at when he will hear something
  • Recognizing specific words and responding to them
  • Saying a few words or copying what you say. 
  • Starting communicating through gestures. 

Tertiary circular reactions

The fifth stage is Tertiary circular reactions and characterized by two behavior patterns. First is Tertiary circular reactions and second is discovery through experimentation. 

Tertiary circular reactions substage starts from the age of 12 months and lasts till 18 months of age.

This marks the start of the toddlerhood of a child. At Tertiary circular reactions stage a kid will be able to examine his environment and start learning a little more about the environment by his motor movements, planning and experiments. 

At Tertiary circular reactions stage a Toddlers become creative at this stage and experiment with new behaviors.

They try variations of their original behaviors rather than repeating the same behaviors.

 At the Tertiary circular reactions stage, the toddler  will probably be making a mess by taking things apart and putting them back to their place and start performing other actions repeatedly in a quest to know what happens every time.

At this stage it becomes easy for a child to perform different activities by planning and carrying out tasks.

 At the Tertiary circular reactions stage the child  will also start to comprehend and be responsive towards uncomplicated questions or directions and can start making use of phrases.

A child may start to show his interest in particular songs and stories. A child may try out different sounds or actions as a way of getting attention from a caregiver.

Symbolic/representational thought

This is the last substation of sensorimotor development of a child. At this stage a child covers a big milestone which is the development of symbolic thoughts.

The theory of Piaget states that when a child is at the age of 18 months he starts to comprehend the symbols and the objects related to these symbols.

This points toward the idea of the permanence of objects which means that information about those objects continues to be existent when the object is not visible.

A child will probably start to repeat the activities and words from the last day at this stage of his development.

A child starts his imaginative plays in this stage and he will develop his vocabulary enormously.

The child will be able to make little requests, or ask short questions of one or two words.

The star of the stage: Object permanence

The primary goal of the sensorimotor stage is the start of object permanence.

The child is capable of understanding that those people and objects which he cannot see do have their existence. This happens when a kid begins to realize objects and people.

A child will create his own world to exist even at those times when he is not communicating with it.

According to the theory of Piaget, a child is usually able to understand the concept when he is eight months old.

However, there is a possibility that this can happen at the earlier stage of six month of age with some kids.

Parenting tips for the Tertiary circular reactions Stage 

During the stage of sensorimotor development to spend time and interact with the kid is very important. Things which strengthen the bonding are holding the baby feeding him and bathing him.

These are very important activities for the growth of a child. Parents can also make other efforts which can be helpful in the cognitive growth of a kid.

Talk to your child frequently

Communicating with the kid, speaking with him, even at the stage when he is unable to answer, will be helpful for him in developing the language skills and enhancing his abilities.

Parents can talk to their kid pertaining to the things of everyday use, reading for him, singing for him and describing what is actually happening while playing and day to day routine.

Provide Environmental Stimulation 

In the sensorimotor stage, a kid learns through using his five senses to investigate his surroundings.

To get a kid into such activities in which he can utilize all his senses so that these senses can grow and help strengthen the sensory skill so child as he moves through all the stages of development. 

  • Let your child play with toys which have color schemes, papers, bubble wraps and fabrics.
  • Children should be provided with such objects which produce different sounds such as pianos, bells, whistles and play pots.
  • A child can be given with softer or board books with pop ups. 
  • A child can be provided with toys of various dimensions, sizes and colors.
  • A child must be involved in such activities which should encourage movement. 

Provide Supervision

There are a lot of activities which are absolutely safe to play with and allow kids to use them independently. 

The parents will wish to be near to the child , but they may not be required to oversee what the child is doing every second. 

For instance, if parents need to go away for an instance or more they can manage to put something in front of the child with which he is able to amuse himself and play in the absence of parents, thus he will be busy playing and parents can easily perform their own task at home.

Some sort of activities may require parents to supervise their child. For example a playing dough may end up quickly in the mouth of a child. 

There are chances that a kid can put anything in his mouth so the parents should be aware of the things that a kid is using while playing if they are cleaned or not or anything with a sharp end which may hurt the kid. 

If the kid continues to put anything in his mouth which is not safe enough then the parents should put that object away from their sight and gently let him know about that object.

This will be highly effective for him to understand that not every toy is safe to play with and to put it in his mouth.

There should be no element of discouragement while giving them directions. 

FAQs about Tertiary Circular Reactions

Q1. What are tertiary circular reactions? 

Children begin a period of trial-and-error experimentation during the fifth substage.

For example, a child may try out different sounds or actions as a way of getting attention from a caregiver.

Q2 . What is a circular reaction?

A chain reflex in which the final response acts as stimulus for the initial response.

Q3. What is an example of tertiary circular reaction?

A child may try out different sounds or actions as a way of getting attention from a caregiver

Q4 . What are Piaget stages of play? 

– Sensorimotor

– Preoperational

– Concrete operational

Formal operational




Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!