Concrete Operational Stage (A Comprehensive Guide)


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Page last updated: 28/08/2022

Concrete Operational Stag

Development of a person has been one of the most important topics for many psychologists over the years.

Jean Piaget was a psychologist from Switzerland who also established a theory for children’s development over the course of different stages.

It is different from both Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development and Freud’s psychosexual development theory.

It differs from Erikson’s theory because it is not stretched over the whole lifespan of a person and it is different from Freud’s work because it does not lay that much emphasis on sex or subconscious.

There are four stages in Piaget’s theory and all of them are present at childhood. This article will discuss the third stage of Jean Piaget’s theory which is the concrete operational stage.

However, before going into the details of the concrete operational stage we shall know a little bit more about Piaget’s theory and what it actually says about development.

First, we would discuss the introduction and explanation of theory and then we’ll discuss the third stage of the theory which is the concrete operational stage. 

  • Piaget’s Work

Jean Piaget was born in the late 1800s in Switzerland and he was a quite brilliant student.

He was the one who published his first scientific paper when he was only 11 years old.

He also worked as an assistant to Theodore Simon and Alfred Binet on standardization of famous IQ tests.

He was exposed to the concept of intellectual development from there and he got interested in child development.

His center of interest was his nephew and his own daughter as he observed them to move through different stages of development as children.

He hypothesized that ‘children’s minds were not only smaller versions of adult minds’ and his observations of his own kids reinforced his hypothesis.

He was, probably, the first person in history who thought that children’s brains work completely differently. Before Piaget, children’s minds were thought to be smaller versions of adult minds.

He also proposed that intelligence develops through different series of stages.

Older children are not quick at thinking; instead there are qualitative and quantitative differences to the thinking process of children of different ages.

However, he concluded that children are not less intelligent, they just think differently from adults.

According to Albert Einstein, ‘so simple only a genius could have thought of it’ was the words of Einstein for Piaget’s work. 

  • Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

According to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children go through four different stages of cognitive development or mental development.

His theory tries to find out reasons behind not only children acquisition of knowledge but also on understanding the nature of intelligence.

He believed that cognitive development occurs due to changes in abilities and cognitive processes.

According to him, cognitive development at early stages includes processes related to actions of the child while development at later stages is due to changes in mental processes.

He believed that children mostly play an active role in the learning process in which they mostly act like they are little scientists because they are trying to experiment, make observations while learning about the world around them.

They keep adding knowledge, adapt to ideas and build on existing knowledge as they accommodate new information.

Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development include: 

  • Sensorimotor stage which goes from birth to 2 years of age
  • Preoperational stage which starts from 2 years and remains till 7years of age
  • Concrete Operational stage which starts at the ages of 7 and remains at the ages of 11 years
  • Formal Operational Stage which starts at the ages of 12 and goes after that 

Piaget developed this theory of cognitive development after a long observation and came up with the above mentioned four stages.

Every stage of Piaget’s theory has its own characteristics and learning outcomes.

However, we’ll discuss the third stage of cognitive development i.e. concrete operational stage in this article. 

  • The Concrete Operational Stage

Concrete operational stage is the third stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

Have you ever encountered a situation where your 7 years old child has told you that he couldn’t ride a horse because it makes him dizzy?

If you have come across this situation then you should be proud because your child has reached the third stage of cognitive development i.e. concrete operational stage.

Children at the concrete operational stage are very concrete and literal in their thinking. They are able to use logic and make causal links all by themselves.

They have become less egocentric as compared to recent stages because they are able to see other people’s point of view as well.

However, children could become logical as well as rigid at a concrete operational stage as they are struggling with abstract and hypothetical notions as well. 

  • What is the Concrete Operational Stage?

A general wondering about the concrete operational stage is found in many people. Let me break it down for you. 

  • Concrete: It means physical things.
  • Operational: It means a logical way of thinking or operating. 

In simpler terms, at a concrete operational stage, a child begins to think logically and rationally.

However, their thinking is restricted to physical objects and they are not able to understand abstract and hypothetical concepts.

Your child will be able to grasp the concept of abstract thought in the next stage. 

  • Developmental Changes in Concrete Operational Stage

This stage starts with children being 7 years of age and lasts till they are 11 years of age.

Children’s learning is enhanced at this stage and they go through a lot of cognitive and developmental changes too at a concrete operational stage.

Some of the main developmental changes at the concrete operational stage are given below. 

  • Children start thinking more logically about concrete events. 
  • Their thinking patterns are more organized and logical, however, still remaining concrete. 
  • They are able to understand the idea behind conservation and the concept that liquid in different sizes of pots has the same quantity.
  • They are using more inductive logic and reasoning from specific to general information. 
  • They also think about what others feel and think instead of becoming egocentric.
  • Children in the concrete operational stage also start understanding the uniqueness of their thoughts.
  • They develop an understanding that it is not necessary that other people also share their thoughts, feelings and opinions. 
  • Occurrence of Concrete Operational Stage

The concrete operational stage starts when a child becomes 7 years old and it goes till the child reach 11 years of age.

This is known as a transitional stage between the first two stages of development i.e. sensorimotor and preoperational stages and the fourth stage i.e. formal operational stage.

However, there is a criticism that Piaget’s timeline is a little out of order because some of the children as young as 6 or even 4 years old can carry out these simpler tasks.

They are able to perform characteristic tasks of the concrete operational stage as some 4 years old can think of logical things. 

  • Characteristics of the Concrete Operational Stage

This is known to be a pivotal stage of development and it is crucial for parents and teachers to understand the characteristics of this stage.

Here are the major characteristics of concrete operational stages. 

  1. Conservation

The word ‘conservation’ is derived from conserve which means understanding of conserving something.

The conservation characteristic of concrete operational stages represents the fact that things stay in the same quantity even if they appear to be different.

For example, the same quantity of liquid appears different in a wide cup or a skinny glass.

Another example is play dough which remains the same even if you squash it or flat or role into a ball. 

  1. Classification

Classification can be understood in two parts which are:

  1. Sorting things into categories.
  2. Sorting into subclasses within the group

The children are able to differentiate and separate things according to categories. A child before the concrete operational stage can group flowers and animals into different categories.

A concrete operational stage can go one step further as they are able to understand sub-classes within a group like animals which can fly are separated into one category and animals which can swim are separated into another category.

  1. Decentration

This is closely related to conservation as your child needs to know and understand decentration so they can conserve correctly.

It is about concentration on different factors at a time. For example, a row of paper clips will always remain a row of paper clips and it does not matter how far they are placed.

Children are able to manipulate numbers as well as lengths at this stage and that’s why they are able to understand this at a concrete operational stage. 

  1. Seriation

When a child is able to mentally sort a group of things into an order without having to do it on a physical scale, this characteristic of concrete operational stage is called seriation.

At a concrete operational stage, your child can sort the thinnest to the widest and shortest to the tallest and vice versa. 

  1. Reversibility

The understanding that children develop at the concrete operational stage in which they know actions can be reversed is called reversibility.

It is also known as mental gymnastics. Your child can figure out that your card is Hyundai and Hyundai is a car and car is a mode of transportation. 

  1. Soico-centricity

This is almost the opposite of egocentricity and this is what parents have been hoping for in a child at a concrete operational stage.

Now your children are not fully focused on themselves. They can now understand that their Mum has other stuff to do and that their mum has her own timetable, feelings and thoughts. 

FAQ about Concrete operational stage 

What are some of the activities for the concrete operational stage?

You can ask your children about the quantity of a liquid in different types of glasses. 

You can ask them to compare candy bars.

Use blocks to build things with your child.

Bake cookies with them.

Story telling

2. Does conservation rule apply only on quantities?

No, children are able to conserve numbers, volume, area and orientation.

3. Can I ask my child to plan a party at a concrete operational stage?

Yes, they can easily do it with your help and it is really helpful for them going beyond their egocentric circle.