Understanding Change in Middle Childhood: Reversibility & Reciprocity

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  • 0:01 Concrete Operations
  • 1:41 Reversibility
  • 2:51 Reciprocity
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As children grow and learn, they begin to understand the world in more and more complex ways. In this lesson, we'll examine cognitive developments made in middle childhood, including the concepts of reversibility and reciprocity.

Concrete Operations

Denny is 10. He's very curious about the world and the way things work. He likes to experiment with different things. Lately, he and his mom have been making ice out of different juices. The ice cubes are delicious and sweet. When he first found out that he could have flavored ice cubes instead of plain old water-based ice cubes, he was so excited!

Denny is in middle childhood, which lasts from age seven to 12. Psychologist Jean Piaget named this stage the concrete operational stage of development because it involves the ability to do mental operations, which are when you manipulate the world in your mind to solve a problem.

For example, if you had asked Denny last year what would happen if you put orange juice into an ice tray and put it in the freezer, he would have had to think hard. He knew that putting water into an ice tray results in ice, so he could figure out that putting juice into the ice tray would produce orange juice-flavored ice.

But if you asked Denny's little sister Nadia, who's only three, she wouldn't have any idea what would happen if you put orange juice into the ice tray. She'd just shrug her shoulders. This is because Nadia can't mentally manipulate the world in order to figure out what would happen with a substance other than water.

Denny, on the other hand, has to think hard, but he is able to figure out that if water turns to ice, so will orange juice. This is because he can change things in his mind, like substituting water for orange juice, to solve the problem.


Mental operations aren't the only skill that kids gain in middle childhood. For example, what if you asked Denny what would happen if you left the orange juice ice out on the counter all afternoon? To Denny, the answer is obvious - it would melt into orange juice. But to Nadia, that doesn't make sense. After all, the orange juice was frozen into ice; how could you unfreeze it again?

Reversibility is the idea that things can be changed and then changed back. Kids begin to understand reversibility near the beginning of middle childhood. They might, for example, learn that you can count backwards as well as forwards.

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