Concrete Operational Stage
The concrete operational stage is the third stage of development of a child’s thinking that occurs approximately between the ages of six and twelve (Jean Piaget’s Stage Theories, n.d.). Major characteristics of this stage are the understanding of conservation, ordering, realism, animism, and artificialism.
During this stage of development, children start to think logically about events and can understand conservation and reversibility; two things that baffled them as toddlers. According to Piaget, the development of conservation comes at different stages at different ages of a child's life (Passer et al., 2005). A child is able to conserve substance at around the age of 6 or 7. At around 9 or 10, they are able to conserve weight. Once a child is around 11 or 12 they are able to conserve volume as well as substance and weight. There are three stages in which a child can ultimately learn the concept of conservation (Boeree, 2006).
1. The child fails the conserved. Whether it is being fooled by looks or not being able to grasp the concept of reversibility, the child does not understand conservation.
2. The second stage is the transitional stage where children sometimes get the concept, but sometimes fail. Children usually can focus on more than one aspect or the situation, but does not realize the relationships between them.
3. In this stage, children can finally understand the concept of conservation. They are able to give logical justifications, such as reversibility (something can be put back to how it was before), identity (nothing has been added or taken away), and compensation (one has more width, but the other has more height), to explain the concept.
Concrete operational children can use symbols to carry out operations, which are mental activities, rather than just physical activities as they were previously doing (Papalia & Olds, 1981).
Children in this stage understand the concept of ordering (Passer et al., 2005). For example, they can put things in order from shortest to tallest, from smallest to biggest. They can also form mental representations in their mind such as the way the school or the way to the park. Even if they take a different route, they are able to see in their minds ultimately where they are headed, as opposed to solely memorizing and recognizing one direct route.
Realism occurs when children confuse events that happen in their minds, such as dreams, with objective reality (Boeree, 2006). Children see names, pictures, thoughts and feelings as actual entities and treat them as unchangeable. For example a block, when called a cube, is a completely different thing; so different it does not even exist.
In the first stage of realism, children believe that their dreams are a product of the outward physical environment and that they use their eyes to see their dreams. In the second stage, children understand that dreams come from their minds and are unreal, but still think that they are happening in the room in front of them. In the third stage, children are now able to comprehend that names were given to objects by people and that dreams are thoughts that take place in their heads (Papalia & Olds, 1981).
Another characteristic of the concrete operational stage of a child is animism. It describes the child's ability to make inanimate objects “come alive.” During the first stage, children believe that everything and anything that has a use is alive. Later on, they believe that everything that moves is alive (like a car). In the third stage, children only believe that things that move on their own, such as the sun and the wind, are alive. Finally, as a child grows up, he or she realizes that only plants and animals and humans are alive (Papalia & Olds, 1981). Though we know that the mountains and the sun are not alive, many people, including adults, give life to these elements, using them poetically.
Artificialism is also another characteristic of the concrete operational stage of development (Boeree, 2006). Children in the preoperational stage of development are egocentric, meaning that they believe that they themselves are the centre of the universe. They feel that they, or other people, created everything in the world (Papalia & Olds, 1981). Through the stage, children go from believing that the sun and moon were created by man, to believing that their creation to be half artificial, half natural, to finally believing that the creation of the world had nothing to do with human activity.
Once a child has accomplished these characteristics of the concrete operational stage, he or she has finally reached the fourth and final stage of human development in which all adults are in: Piaget's stage of Formal Operations.