Cognitive development is the process in which children develop the abilities needed to solve problems, think logically, and make decisions. As they grow and develop, they begin to understand more about the world around them and how the world works.
By age 6 or 7, the child has entered the Concrete Operational Stage. This is the third stage in Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. (We talk about the first two stages, the Sensorimotor Stage and the Preoperational Stage, in previous videos.) During this stage, the child is beginning to grasp logical reasoning.
The most important developments in this stage include that of Conservation, Classification, and Reversibility. These developments do not stand alone - they are comprised of building blocks of skills and abilities that develop throughout the Concrete Operational Stage. This stage will last until the child is around the age of 11 or 12.
In this video, we will go through the most important developments of the Concrete Operational Stage and the limitations that children still face during this time period.
Let’s start with Conservation.
One of the defining elements of the Preoperational Stage is that children have a hard time understanding Conservation. Not ecological conservation. Children between the ages of 2-7 have a hard time understanding that a quantity is the same despite a change in physical appearance or container. A child in the Preoperational Stage will not be able to see that 10mL of liquid in a short, wide glass is the same as 10mL of liquid in a tall, skinny glass.
As the child enters the Concrete Operational Stage, they begin to grasp this concept. They can use other “clues” about an object to assess its quantity. Sure, the ball of clay has been smashed flat. But it’s still the same amount of clay. Yes, the green tennis ball is now blue. But it will still bounce the way a normal tennis ball would.
Why do children start to grasp the concept of conservation at this point in their development? Piaget claims that it’s due to a process called decentering or decentration. This process allows the child to see many aspects of one problem at a time. They can see that one glass is taller than the other, but they can also see that one glass is wider than the other, and that both glasses read 10mL. Children in earlier stages can only focus on one of these elements, and that one element solely influences their thinking or their answer.
Decentration also plays a role in classification. Classification is the ability to organize and classify items and ideas by similar characteristics. Children can observe an item that looks and feels like a plant and classify it as a plant. But they can also see how a green plant fits in with other green items. They can also separate green plants from red plants, but still see them as “plants.” They can see how plants differ from animals, and how animals differ from other household items.
At the Concrete Operational Stage, the child has moved past animism. Animism is the idea that all things and all creatures have a soul. Once the child reaches the Concrete Operational Stage, they can begin to separate and classify objects that are animate vs. objects that are inanimate.
Children at the Concrete Operational Stage also have the ability to organize the items that they have classified. Seriation is the process is arranging items in a logical order. Not only can the child organize all of the red flowers, but they can also arrange the red flowers by how dark the flower is or how long their stems are.
As the child develops these skills, they can also use transitive inference. This allows them to compare the color of two different red flowers by introducing a third red flower to the collection. If they see that one flower is darker than a second flower, and that the second flower is darker than a third flower, they can also infer that the first flower is darker than the third flower.
Reversibility is another major development in the Concrete Operational Stage. It simply means that children realize that actions can be reversed. This allows them to think backwards in order to solve a problem. Sure, they know that 2 + 2 = 4. With reversibility, they can use that information to figure out that 4-2=2.
This understanding also helps the child to understand Conservation at a deeper level. Yes, the ball of clay has been flattened. As the child develops the idea of reversibility, they begin to see that they can mold the flattened clay back into a ball, all while keeping the same quantity of clay.
Limits to the Concrete Operational Stage
There is a lot of exciting developments that take place in the Concrete Operational Stage, but there is still one step to go in Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. During the Concrete Operational Stage, children can only apply logic to things that they have seen or that currently exist. In the Formal Operational Stage, they are able to take things one step further and apply logic to things that are pretend or that will exist in the future.
While children gain the ability to conduct inductive reasoning, they still struggle with deductive reasoning.
Stay tuned for the next video to learn more about the child’s final stage of cognitive development.