Piaget’s Preoperational stages


Piaget’s Preoperational stages

According to Piaget, the preoperational stage from approximately age 2 to 7 years. In which children’s use of symbolic thinking grows, mental reasoning emerges, and the use of concepts increases.

The preschool years as a time of both stability and great change. Piaget suggests that the preschool years fit entirely into a single stage of cognitive development.

  • Symbolic function / representational insight- the ability to use a mental symbol, a word, or an object to stand for or represent something that is not physically present.
  • The use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imaginations are developed.
  • Still not able to perform operations.
  • Animism  -Attribute life/life like qualities to inanimate object.
  • Egocentrism -View world from own perspective, trouble recognizing other’s point of view. for example – Aai Virappa n Kattappa la maral’.

Seeing Mom’s car keys may prompt a question, “Go to store?”. As the child comes to see the keys as a symbol of a car ride. In this way, children become better at representing events internally. And they grow less dependent on the use of direct sensorimotor activity to understand the world around them.

Yet they are still not capable of operations: organized, formal, logical mental processes that characterize school age children. Moreover, it is only at the end of the preoperational stage that the ability to carry out operations comes into play.

For example, during this stage, preschoolers can use a mental symbol for a car (the word car). Likewise they understand that a small toy car is representative of the real thing. Because of their ability to use symbolic function, there is no need for them to get behind the wheel of an actual car to understand its basic purpose and use.

There are 2 substages in Piaget’s Preoperational stages-

  1. The Symbolic Function- (2-4 years)-

  • Children cannot manipulate information in logical ways, but they now can think in images and symbols.
  • Mental abilities are language and pretend play (horse riding).

Deficits –

  • Lack of conservation – do not realize properties of objects do not change just because appearance does.
  • Lack of decentration – concentrate on more than one aspect of a problem at the same time.
  • Lack of reversibility – mentally undo an action.

2. The Intuitive Thought –(4-7 years)

  • Children tend to become very curious and ask many questions. They use of primitive reasoning.
  • Centration is the act of focusing all attention on one characteristic compared to the others.
  • It is a key element, and limitation, of the thinking of children.
  • Centration is noticed in conservation; the awareness that altering a substance’s appearance does not change its basic properties.

The Relation between Language and Thought.

Symbolic function is at the heart of one of the major advances that occurs in the preoperational period. The increasingly sophisticated use of language. 

In Piaget’s preoperational stages, Piaget suggests that language and thinking are tightly interconnected and that the advances in language that occur during the preschool years reflect several improvements over the type of thinking that is possible during the earlier sensorimotor period.

For Example, thinking embedded in sensorimotor activities is relatively slow because it depends on actual movements of the body that are bound by human physical limitations. In contrast, the use of symbolic thought, such as the development of an imaginary friend, allows preschoolers to represent actions symbolically, permitting much greater speed.

Even more important, the use of language allows children to think beyond the present to the future. Consequently, rather than being grounded in the immediate here and now, preschoolers can imagine future possibilities through language in the form of sometimes elaborate fantasies and daydreams.

Centration: What You See is What You Think.

Place a dog mask on a cat and what do you get? According to three- and four-year-old preschoolers, a dog. To them, a cat with a dog mask ought to bark like a dog, wag its tail like a dog, and eat dog food. In every respect, the cat has been transformed into a dog.

According to Piaget, the root of this belief is centration, Centration is the process of concentrating on one limited aspect of a stimulus and ignoring other aspects.’ However, preschoolers are unable to consider all available information about a stimulus. Instead, they focus on superficial, obvious elements that are within their sight. Moreover, these external elements come to dominate preschoolers’ thinking, leading to inaccuracy in thought.

Conservation: Learning that Appearance are Deceiving.

Conservation is the knowledge that quantity is unrelated to the arrangement and physical appearance of objects. Because they are unable to conserve, preschoolers can’t understand that changes in one dimension (such as a change in appearance) do not necessarily mean that other dimensions (such as quantity) change.

For example, children who do not yet understand the principle of conservation feel quite comfortable in asserting that the amount of liquid changes as it is poured between glasses of different sizes. Moreover, they simply are unable to realize that the transformation in appearance does not imply a transformation in quantity.

Read about Piaget’s theory of Infant Development, click here.


  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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