As a child, you were at an age where everything was pretty straightforward. One plus one equaled two; if you wanted something done, you did it. There was no complexity in your world.
Gradually, things got harder as you moved through the stages of childhood development. You start exploring more and messing with stuff you shouldn’t. You start to formulate plans and then execute them. You’re no longer a child, but not yet an adult either. You’ve entered the Concrete Operational stage of cognitive development.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist and philosopher, developed one of the most influential theories in cognitive development — Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory.
Elaborating on the Concrete Operational Stage
By developing an understanding of conservation, they recognize that properties such as mass, volume, and numbers remain constant despite changes in the form of objects.
A child at this stage of development can use logic to solve problems that have a concrete outcome. An example would be, “If I have four marbles, and I give away two marbles, how many do I have left?” This problem requires the child to mentally manipulate objects in space rather than simply memorize rules or procedures.
The Concrete Operational stage is a major milestone in a child’s development. Children begin to think abstractly, reason logically, and use mental imagery at this stage. They can make predictions and solve problems using trial and error.
A child is likely to be ready to enter this stage of development if they can:
- classify objects into categories such as plants, animals, and tools;
- understand relationships among objects;
- predict what will happen when one object is moved;
- solve problems by trial and error;
- create imaginary worlds;
Furthermore, the notion of reversibility becomes apparent, allowing children to understand that actions can be reversed, and the concept of classification supports the grouping and categorizing of objects based on particular criteria.
Key Characteristics of the Concrete Operational Stage
The Concrete Operational stage occurs between the ages of 6 and 11.
According to Piaget, children in this stage can see things from both sides and understand that their actions may cause a reaction from others. They are also able to engage in hypothetical or abstract thinking. Below are the main characteristics of the Concrete Operational stage:
For example, in earlier stages, children might have believed that a long, thin glass of water held more than a short, wide one. However, as their conservation skills emerge, they grasp that the changes in shape don’t affect the volume of water.
For example, they can mentally undo processes and find their way back to the original state, like in basic arithmetic operations: they understand that if you subtract two from 5 and get 3, you can add 2 to 3 to go back to 5.
For example, a child may be able to tell you that all his trucks belong in one box because they are all red and have wheels on them. This newfound capability for categorizing reflects their expanding capacity to observe, reason, and identify underlying patterns in the world.
It arranges objects according to their similarities and differences without regard for size or shape. It is also a type of order in which objects are arranged in order of size, weight, height, and so on.
For example, in a classroom setting, children often use seriation when they sort objects into groups according to color (red ball, blue ball), size (large ball, small ball), or shape (square block, triangle block). Seriation can also be used by adults when arranging objects according to their physical properties (hard rock, soft rock, strong magnet, weak magnet).
For instance, if a child is presented with the following information:
- A > B (A is greater than B)
- B > C (B is greater than C)
A child in the concrete operational stage who has acquired transitivity would be able to deduce that: A > C (A is greater than C)
This demonstrates the child’s developing ability to comprehend and extend relationships between objects or concepts, even if they haven’t been directly compared before.
For example, if presented with two glasses of liquid—one tall and narrow, the other short and wide—a child in the concrete operational stage with developed decentering skills can recognize that even though the tall glass appears to hold more liquid, the amount of liquid in both glasses remains the same.
This ability to decenter and consider multiple aspects of the situation allows for more accurate reasoning and understanding of conservation principles.
Other Important Processes in Concrete Operational Stage
Once children have developed the skills of classification, seriation, conservation of number and quantity, conservation of matter, and fusion (or the ability to assemble small pieces into a larger structure or object), they have attained concrete operational thought.
In this stage, individuals are able to think logically, and equally important is their ability to think in physical terms. While I have explained two important processes of the Concrete Operational stage, there are two more that you should be aware of:
- Reduction of egocentrism
To use logic, a person must be able to think logically, which means they must follow a set of rules or guidelines to solve a problem.
For example, if a person has been told that three times four equals twelve and wants to know what five times five equals, they would have to apply what they know about multiplication (how it works) to the numbers. This is an example of using logic.
Elimination of egocentrism is another important process in this stage.
At this stage, children begin realizing that other people have different points of view than their own, so they realize that some things may be right for them but not for others.
Key Differences Between the Preoperational and Concrete Operational Stages
The Preoperational stage is a developmental phase in a child’s cognitive development, where they begin to use symbols and language to represent objects and ideas.
This stage, typically occurring between ages 2 and 7, is characterized by the development of imaginative play, egocentrism (difficulty seeing things from others’ perspectives), and the emergence of symbolic thinking. While children in this stage may show signs of understanding basic concepts, they still struggle with abstract and logical reasoning.
As discussed above, the Concrete Operational stage follows the preoperational stage, usually between ages 7 and 11. During this stage, children become more capable of logical and concrete thinking.
They start to grasp concepts like conservation (understanding that quantity remains the same even if the appearance changes) and reversibility (realizing that actions can be undone or reversed). However, abstract and hypothetical thinking is still challenging for children in this stage.
Here’s a quick overview of the Preoperational stage vs. Concrete Operational stage:
|Factors||Preoperational Stage (2 – 7 years)||Concrete Operational Stage (7 – 11 years)|
|Egocentrism||Highly prevalent, difficulty understanding other perspectives||Reduced, children become more capable of understanding others’ views|
|Conservation||Struggle with the concept, focusing on superficial changes||Develop an understanding of conservation and realize properties remain constant|
|Logical Thinking||Limited logical thought, primarily intuitive and subjective reasoning||Increased abilities in logical thinking and problem-solving for concrete situations|
|Reversibility||Unable to understand the reversibility of actions||Develop an understanding of reversibility and the ability to reverse actions|
|Classification||Struggle with organizing objects into groups based on shared characteristics||Able to classify and categorize objects appropriately|
|Language Development||Rapid growth in vocabulary but struggle with understanding multiple meanings||Improved language comprehension, ability to understand humor and metaphors|
|Understanding Cause and Effect Relationships||Difficulty grasping cause-and-effect connections||Improved ability to understand cause-and-effect relationships in real-world situations|
|Focus on Reality vs. Imagination||Predominantly focused on imagination and symbolic play||Greater focus on reality and concrete information, with reduced reliance on imagination|
Key Differences Between the Formal and Concrete Operational Stages
The formal operational stage is a landmark point in a child’s development. The concrete operational stage may be a continuation of the previous stage, but there are key differences between the two stages, which will be discussed below.
|Aspect||Concrete Operational Stage||Formal Operational Stage|
|Age Range||7 to 11 years (may vary individually)||12 years and up (may vary individually)|
|Nature of Thought||Logical thinking focused on concrete events and objects||Abstract thinking, reasoning, and hypothetical-deductive thought|
|Conservation||Capable of understanding conservation concepts||Conservation concepts are well-established|
|Problem-Solving||Problem-solving based on direct experience and hands-on learning||Ability to solve problems using hypothetical-deductive reasoning|
|Reversibility||Developing an understanding of the reversibility of operations||Advanced understanding of reversibility and complex operations|
|Abstract Thinking||Limited ability to think abstractly||Capable of handling abstract concepts and generalizations|
|Hypothetical Reasoning||Difficulty in imagining potential outcomes or scenarios||Easily considers potential outcomes and hypothetical scenarios|
|Logical Ordering (Seriation)||Ability to arrange items in order based on quantitative dimensions||Can apply logical order to abstract concepts and ideas|
Teaching Kids to Deal with Real-Life Problems
While concrete operational thought is useful, it is not the be-all and end-all of development. There are other important processes in this stage, like logic. This involves an understanding that a particular action leads to a particular result.
Developing new types of logical thinking, independently of concrete life experience, allows the child to think abstractly and to step back from the situation into a more global perspective. These abstract understandings can be applied to other situations and create new knowledge, a critical skill at this stage. The child can also see his or her thoughts, feelings, and actions as separate from a more general understanding of the world.
What Is the Concrete Operational Stage?
The Concrete Operational Stage is the third stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, typically developing between the ages of 7 and 11. Children at this stage begin to think logically about concrete events and understand the concept of conservation, the ability to reverse operations, and reason based on specific experiences or perceptions.
Why Are Children in the Concrete Operational Stage Able to Perform Conservation Tasks?
Children at the Concrete Operational stage can perform conservation tasks because their cognitive abilities have developed to a point where they understand that certain properties of objects remain constant despite changes in appearance. For example, they understand that the clay volume remains unchanged, whether rolled into a ball or flattened into a pancake.
During What Age Period Is the Concrete Operational Stage Predominant?
The Concrete Operational Stage predominates between ages 7 and 11, although this may vary slightly among children.
What Toys Are Good for the Concrete Operational Stage?
During this stage, logic-based games, puzzles, and building sets are good as they stimulate logical thinking. Other beneficial toys include scientific project sets, educational board games, and craft sets encouraging fine motor skills and creativity.
What Theorist Is Associated with the Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development?
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, is associated with the Concrete Operational Stage of cognitive development.
How Would You Differentiate Piaget’s Formal Operations Stage from the Concrete Operational Stage?
The main difference between the two stages lies in the degree of abstract thought. While the Concrete Operational Stage involves hands-on thinking based on tangible, physical objects and occurrences, the Formal Operational Stage, typically beginning around age 12, denotes the ability to reason in more abstract, theoretical terms.
What Barriers in Thinking Exist for Children in the Concrete Operational Stage?
While their logical reasoning has improved, children in the Concrete Operational Stage are still limited to thinking in concrete terms, finding it difficult to think hypothetically or abstractly. This means they often struggle with tasks that require imagining potential outcomes or possibilities which remain unseen or unreal.