Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development By Piaget And Their Implications On Education

The Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development by Piaget is a stage when children can think about things beyond the physical world, such as things that happened in the past. They can also imagine and think symbolically, which is demonstrated through their language and behaviour.

In this article:

  1. What does the Word Preoperational Mean?
  2. The 3 Concepts Developed during Preoperational Stage
  3. The 3 Concepts Not Developed during Preoperational Stage
  4. The 3 Main Implications of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development on Education
  5. Age-appropriate Activities for Cognitive Development in Young Children

According to Jean Piaget, the second stage of Cognition spans from 2 years to 7 years. This is a period in life, during which the ability to represent things mentally increases rapidly, in spite of the fact that the thought process of the child is not logical.

What Does the Word Preoperational Mean?

Operation is nothing but mental actions that follow certain rules or logical rules. However, the word Preoperational indicates that the children at this stage are rigid in their thinking, influenced by only one feature, and are limited to that situation. Hence, they are not capable of operations. That is why we call it as Preoperational period.

The 3 Concepts Developed during Preoperational Stage

According to Piaget, children in the age group of 2 to 7 years develop 3 concepts during their preoperational period. They are:

  1. Egocentrism
  2. Animistic Thinking
  3. Transductive Reasoning

Let us discuss each of them in detail.

1. Egocentrism

Egocentrism is considered as the most important concept during this stage of a child’s life. In this concept, the term Ego refers to self. The child is therefore set to be self-centred during this stage.

Having said, self-centred doesn’t mean selfish. It just means that children believe everyone around them think, feel and perceive things the same way that they do.

Piaget proved the development of self-centred outlook in children through a demonstration, called the 3 Mountain Problems. In the demonstration, a child was made to stand on one side of a table that displayed 3 mountains of different height were arranged. A doll was made to sit on the other side of the table.

The child was asked to go around the table that displayed the mountains, after which he/she was asked to pick up a photograph from a pile of photos that shows how the mountain would appear from the doll’s direction (perspective/point of view).

However he child always picked the photograph that shows the mountain from his/her point of view, and not the doll’s point of view.

A simple yet a defining example of an ego-centric approach, is a child nodding in response to a mobile phone conversation.

2. Animistic Thinking

The concept of Ego-centrism develops what is called Animistic Thinking in a young child. According to this concept, the children assume that every object they see has got life, thoughts and feelings the way they do. Simply put, Ego-centrism is about giving human life-like characteristics even to inanimate (lifeless) objects.

An example of animistic thinking in children are statements uttered by a preschooler, like:

“The sun goes to bed at night because it is tired giving light for us throughout the day.”, or they may say

“Did the tree cry when the hole was made?” if they see a tree that have holes in them, probably that was caused naturally or by a woodpecker.

3. Transductive Reasoning

Transductive reasoning is an amazing ability that preschoolers have to easily connect with seemingly disconnected facts and contradictions. They do this by linking two events that occur close to each other, either by space or time. However they do not have the capacity to reason from general to particular, or vice-versa.

An example for Transductive reasoning in children is when they say thing with utmost conviction, like “Look mom, the moon is coming along with us”, when they are travelling in a car or a train at night.

This is a typical example of how two completely disconnected facts are so easily connected without any effort (thanks to their innocence).

Their conviction is so deep, that even if you were to ask them if the moon would come with them (in the car or train) when they go to sleep, they would say “Yes” without a blink. If you were to probe them how they know that the moon will indeed come with them, they may say “Because my pet dog/cat also sleep with me with I go to sleep”.

The 3 Concepts Not Developed during Preoperational Stage

Not only did Piaget describe what children are capable of doing during the Preoperational Stage of life, he also explained what they cannot. On those lines, he discusses about three inabilities that a preschooler goes through, namely the:

a) Inability to Conserve

The realisation in a child (individual) that certain physical characteristics of an object do not change, even when there is an observed change in the outward appearance, is called Conservation.

The task of conservation involves aspects like number, length, mass, liquid, solid and weight. Young children have trouble understanding that the same quantity of liquid poured in containers of different shapes remain the same.

The pre-schoolers’ inability to conserve characterises another concept called Centration among them. Centration is an idea of focusing on only one aspect or feature in a given situation and neglecting others.

b) Irreversibility

Irreversibility refers to the inability of a preschooler to reverse the direction of thought or perception, because of their inability to follow the series of steps involved that allow them to return to the original starting point. This happens so, because children have their own process of cognitive development.

For example a child will be able to answer the question “What is 4+5?” as “9’, but cannot understand the reverse of that equation (9=5+4).

c) Inability to Classify Things Hierarchially

The illogical thinking of the preschoolers do not allow them to process and develop the capability to organise objects as per their classes or subclasses, based on their similarities and differences.

For example of a child’s inability to classify things hierarchically is when he/she is showed a bunch of 12 flowers, out of which most of them are yellow and the rest are red, and is asked to answer the question “Are there are more yellow flowers or are there more flowers?”, they would confidently answer “There are more yellow flowers”.

The reason behind their answer is that they do not have the ability, yet, to think flowers as a whole class, and that the yellow and red flowers are the subclass.

The 3 Main Implications of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development on Education

There are 3 main educational implications of Piaget’s theory:

a) Discovery Learning

Piaget believed that every child acquires knowledge by directly acting on the environment around. The settings of the home and school environment should therefore be such that it provides a wide range of opportunities to discover things by themselves with natural contact within the surrounding.

c) Do Not Impose New Skills unless the Child has the Readiness to Learn

Piaget stresses that one should understand the level of thinking of a child at various stages and ages. He also argues that unless the child is ready to learn a particular skill, the same should not be imposed on him or her, as that may result the child just memorising things superficially rather than learn and develop a deeper understanding about the new learning.

c) Individual Differences Exist

Though all children go through a similar series of cognitive growth and development, the rate or pace of development varies from one child to another. This is why every parent, caregiver or teacher should always be aware and conscious about the crucial fact that every child is unique in their own way and that is what makes each one special.

Children in their early years, therefore need to be provided with enough number of opportunities for development without being coerced to learn. Children, especially during early childhood, cannot be ‘taught’. They need to only be facilitated to explore and learn things by themselves.

Age-appropriate Activities for Cognitive Development in Young Children

Here are some of the age-appropriate activities for cognitive development for children from 0 to 2 years and 2 to 7 years.

Activities for 0 to 2 years

Let the child to play with the rattle and squeak toys to understand the cause-and-effect relationship, meaning shake the rattle or squeeze the toy to hear the sound. Also play peek-a-boo with the child, as it helps the infant to understand object permanence, which is an essential part of early learning.

Object permanence is an understanding in children that events and objects continue to exist, even if they cannot be seen, heard or felt through touch.

Activities for 2 to 7 years

When children play dress-up or play house it allows them to take on the role of certain characters of adults they see around them.

Dress-up is a game or activity where children dress-up in the clothing or costumes of their mom or dad and parade around the house acting like them. Play house is play where the child pretends to be an adult and carries out routine domestic activities and tasks.

Playing such games enables them to look at things from another individual’s point of view, which can help them overcome egocentrism.

Similarly, playing with things that changes shape and form, like playing with clay or wheat dough (meant for making bread, including Indian bread like Chappathi) helps them to understand the concept of Conservation, which was discussed above.

Playing with puzzles is a great way to learn facts and skills needed for cognitive development.

During the Preoperational stage, it becomes important that children’s activities as regards working with paper, pencil and workbooks are limited, and most of their learning takes place by discovering things through play.

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.