The second stage of Piaget’s development is the preoperational stage that occurs between 2 to 7 years (Jean Piaget’s Stage Theories, n.d.). The end of the first stage has inscribed object permanence in the child’s mind. In the second stage, the child learns to think symbolically, being able to use symbols in his or her mind to portray concrete objects, places and people that they have seen in the past (Boeree, 2006). Children who are in the preoperational stage of development are able to produce mental representations, sight or sound, without external cues. The representation is called a signifier and the object the signifier represents is called the significate. Symbols such as auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic representations and signs such as words and numbers are used (Papalia & Olds, 1981). However, even when the child becomes proficient in language, he or she will still use these symbols to represent things.
There are three main characteristics of the preoperational stage of a child’s cognitive development: egocentrism, centration and irreversibility.
Egocentrism refers to the inability of a child to take on a role of another person (Passer et al., 2005). For example, when given a three-dimensional model, the child expects that the person on the other side of the model is viewing the same thing as him or her. It is inconceivable to the child that another person would be able to see something else when looking at the same object no matter which direction it is being viewed from. Egocentrism allows the child to recognize his or her own perspective without recognizing the perspective, needs and interests of other people. Egocentrism is very prominent in language as a child in the preoperational stage is unable to have a conversation with another child because he or she is unable to know or care about the interest or topic of the other child (Papalia & Olds, 1981).
Centration refers to the inability of child to concentrate on an aspect of a situation without neglecting other aspects thus leading to illogical thinking (Boeree, 2006). For example, when two identical glasses have the same amount water, the child recognizes the volume to be the same. When one of the glasses of water is poured into a taller and narrower and the child is then asked which glass has more, pointing to the height, the child will say the taller one. When the child is asked which glass has more, pointing to the width, the child will say the shorter, wider glass. It is impossible for the child to conceive both height and width at the same time, thus leading to illogical assumptions.The third characteristic of the preoperational stage is irreversibility. Irreversibility refers to the inability of a child to realize that an action be done and undone (Jean Piaget’s Stage Theories, n.d.). For example, in the previous water example, the child does not realize that the water can be poured back in into the original glass and is actually the same amount of water as the other glass.