Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage

23 October, 2020
The concrete operational stage is the part of Piaget's developmental theory that explains the formation of logical thinking in children.

The concrete operational stage is part of the theory of cognitive development proposed by Jean Piaget, whose discoveries are fundamental for positive psychology. According to this theory, child thinking has unique characteristics and these vary according to the stage of maturity and interaction with the environment.

Today’s article will discuss how the logic of a child who’s beginning the concrete operational stage works. What’s their perspective of the world? What’s it like? What problems can they solve?

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget completely revolutionized the theories of child development and the concept of intelligence that had existed until then. His theory of development questioned whether children were less competent thinkers than adults. Also, whether they were at the mercy of their environment as people believed up until the 1940s.

Thus, Piaget demonstrated through ingenious experiments that children’s ways of thinking aren’t inferior to those of adults, only different. In his theory of cognitive development, he described infants as “little scientists”. He observed that they actively operate with the environment, experiment, and modify their thinking according to their findings.

According to Piaget, children construct a series of mental representations of the world in accordance with their stage of maturity. This is because they observe the discrepancies between their mental map and the reality they perceive as they interact with their environment. Thus, it allows them to progressively modify this conception.

The brain of a child has a concrete operations stage.

The concrete operational stage

Piaget divided his theory of cognitive development into four main stages:

  • The sensory-motor.
  • The pre-operational.
  • The concrete operational.
  • The formal operations.

All children go through these stages in the same order towards a way of thinking that evolves in complexity and abstraction.

According to Piaget’s theory, the concrete operational stage begins between the ages of seven and eleven. However, the author recognizes the existence of individual and cultural variability. This third stage of the developmental theory is fundamental in that it’s the beginning of logical or operational thinking in the child.

In the concrete operational stage, a child has acquired sufficient biological maturity to begin to operate through rules. In other words, the main characteristic of this stage is the development of logical thinking. One that no longer requires so much physical manipulation. Moreover, it allows them flexible reflection, the kind that isn’t only based on the appearance of objects.

According to Piaget’s experiments, a child who’s at the concrete operational stage would be able to mentally order a series of sticks by size. In fact, they wouldn’t need to physically manipulate them at all.

The concrete operational stage: series, classification, and conservation

According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, a child in the concrete operational stage will acquire three fundamental operations described below:

  • Seriation is the ability to compare and order elements based on their differences. This operation is necessary for the handling of concepts such as numbers, time, measurements, and orientation. In a practical example, a child who hasn’t yet reached the concrete operational stage has a concept of time in which they don’t differentiate between a minute and an hour.
  • Classification is the ability to classify objects according to their characteristics and determine whether they belong to a particular set or hierarchy. Thus, a child who hasn’t acquired the skills of the concrete operational stage wouldn’t understand the relationship between human beings and mammals. That is, they wouldn’t be able to understand that all human beings are mammals but they’re not the only mammals among living beings.
  • Finally, the operation that refers to conservation refers to the fact that an object can be the same in spite of changes in its appearance. In other words, the redistribution of an element wouldn’t affect qualities such as its mass, volume, or length. A possible experiment would be showing a glass of water and pouring it into another smaller glass. Do so without varying the quantity. A child who hasn’t yet initiated the stage of concrete operations would think there’s more liquid in it.
A child doing math with his fingers.

The concrete operational stage and the practical child

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development built the foundation for today’s evolutionary psychology. For the first time, it proposed a perspective of children’s unique thinking. In addition, it described the processes of biological maturation. It described the relationship with the environment that underlies the development of mental processes as well.

The concrete operational is the third stage of the phases described by Piagetian’s theories. In this fundamental stage, children acquire logical notions and enjoy more flexible thinking. The main operations acquired in this stage are serialization, conservation, and classification. These three skills allow them to solve problems in a more systematic way.

Finally, people usually describe this stage as the birth of “the practical child”. Mainly, because it surpasses the previous stages related to learning. It does so through activity and intuition. A practical child no longer learns by trial and error but acquires scientific logic.

Piaget J. (1968). Educación e instrucción. Buenos Aires: Proteo.

Piaget J. (1961). La formación del símbolo en el niño. México: Fondo de Cultura.

Richmond, G. (1961). Introducción a Piaget. España: Fundamentos