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The Preoperational Stage

Ages: 2 to 7 Years


Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development suggests that children move through four different stages of mental development. His theory focuses not only on understanding how children acquire knowledge, but also on understanding the nature of intelligence.



Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:

  • Children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects.

  • Children at this stage tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others.

  • While they are getting better with language and thinking, they still tend to think about things in very concrete terms.

The foundations of language development may have been laid during the previous stage, but it is the emergence of language that is one of the major hallmarks of the preoperational stage of development. Children become much more skilled at pretend play during this stage of development, yet still think very concretely about the world around them. 


At this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people. They also often struggle with understanding the idea of constancy.

For example, a researcher might take a lump of clay, divide it into two equal pieces, and then give a child the choice between two pieces of clay to play with. One piece of clay is rolled into a compact ball while the other is smashed into a flat pancake shape. Since the flat shape looks larger, the preoperational child will likely choose that piece even though the two pieces are exactly the same size.

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