What is the concrete operational stage of child development?

Candace Lehman, Natalie Boyd
  • Author
    Candace Lehman

    Candace Lehman has taught all subject areas in 4th and 5th grade for over 12 years. She has a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from Missouri State University. She holds a lifetime teaching certificate in the state of Missouri for Birth-6th Grade.

  • Instructor
    Natalie Boyd

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

What is the concrete operational stage of child development? Learn more about the theory and logical principles of Jean Piaget for concrete operational stages. Updated: 08/02/2021

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Concrete Operational Stage of Child Development

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who developed a theory on the developmental stages of children of different ages. Piaget was the first psychologist in the 1920s to study the cognitive development of children. He discovered the following:

Jean Piaget developed a theory on the cognitive development of a child

Jean Piaget

  • Children learn and make decisions differently from adults
  • Children build up their knowledge about their environment
  • The best way to understand a child's reasoning was to see things from their point of view

Piaget worked for the Binet Institute and became interested in cognitive development through his work of assessing French children's IQ's. He became more interested in the wrong answers on the tests than the correct answers. He became curious about when the major concepts, such as numbers, time, quantity, casualty, justice, and other fundamental thoughts began to emerge in children. In the 1950s, he determined that children pass through four developmental stages of cognitive development.

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  • 0:01 Concrete Operations
  • 1:54 Classifications
  • 2:50 Seriation
  • 3:36 Transitivity
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Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Age Level Description
Birth-18 or 24 Months Sensorimotor Stage Develop an understanding of the world through a combination of sensory actions and motor actions
2-7 Years Preoperational Stage Children make decisions before an action and cannot use logic or reason to make decisions
7-12 Years Concrete Operational Stage Development of methodical reasonable thinking
12 Years and Up Formal Operational Stage Ability to think abstractly

Concrete Operations

The concrete operational stage of development begins at age seven and lasts until about age 12.

Child Development

What is the Concrete Operational Stage? Piaget's concrete operational stage is the third stage and is considered to be the most important developmental stage of a child's cognitive thinking. The concrete stage marks the beginning of a child's methodical and logical thinking process, called mental operation. Mental operation is when you manipulate your mind to solve problems. The concrete operational period is from age seven until around age twelve of a child's life. The concrete operational definition is the development of logical or operational thinking toward physical, or concrete, objects.

The concrete operational stage of development includes:

  • Classification
  • Conservation
  • Seriation
  • Transitivity

Classification

Classification is a child's ability to classify objects based on size, color, shape, etc. Children in this stage can identify the properties that make the items the same or different. They use this categorical information to solve problems. The main ability of classification is the ability to group objects based on a quality they share. Children can also identify subgroups within the main group of items.

Piaget developed a test to determine if a child had mastered the classification stage of concrete operational development. He used a group of white and brown wooden beads and showed them to a child. The child was asked, "Are there more white beads or brown beads?" If a child could not give the correct answer, Piaget determined they were still in the preoperational stage of development.

Another psychologist, James McGarrigle, developed a slightly different version to this test to prove his theory that children can in fact show centration, a child's ability to deal with one classification at a time, earlier than Piaget theorized. In McGarrigle's experiment, he showed a child a group of black and white cow cutouts. He laid the cutouts on their side like they were sleeping. He then asked the child two questions about the cows. The first question, "Are there more white cows or black cows?" This was the same question that Piaget asked and children were correct only 25 percent of the time. McGarrigle then went on to ask a second question. He asked, "Are there more black cows or sleeping cows?" to which children answered correctly 48 percent of the time.

McGarrigle determined from the results of his test that children are able to show centration earlier than Piaget had determined, and that the children in Piaget's study were not asked the question correctly.

Conservation

Conservation is a child's understanding that the quantity of an object stays the same even when its appearance might change. An example of this would be a glass of water poured into a taller glass of water. The amount of water stays the same, but the amount will seem greater in the taller glass. Children that had not mastered the concrete operational stage would argue the taller glass held more liquid.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the characteristics of the concrete operational stage?

The characteristics of the concrete operational stage are the ability to classify an object based on size, color, shape, etc; the ability to determine a quantity is the same even if it looks different; the ability to order items using spatial awareness; and the ability to comprehend how different objects are related.

What happens in Piaget's concrete operational stage?

The concrete stage marks the beginning of a child's methodical and logical thinking process. The concrete operational period is from age seven until around age twelve of a child's life. The concrete operational definition is the development of logical or operational thinking toward physical, or concrete, objects.

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