According to Piaget, young children go through two distinct phases or sub-stages in cognitive development. During the Symbolic Function sub-stage, children master the ability to picture, remember, understand, and replicate objects in their minds that are not immediately in front of them. Children’s play will move from simple make-believe to plots involving more characters and scenarios, games with sophisticated rules, etc. According to Piagset, playing isn’t just fun; it is an important part of brain development.
These new cognitive abilities are helpful to young children’s everyday experiences. Children can talk about people who are traveling, or who live somewhere else, like Grandma. Piaget suggests that their thinking is rather rigid, limited to one aspect of a situation at a time. This style of thinking leads to characteristic errors, he says.
Conservation is a person’s ability to understand that certain physical characteristics of objects remain the same, even if their appearance has changed. To demonstrate the concept of Conservation, Piaget showed young children two identical cups filled with identical volumes of water. To these children, the taller cup looked like it had more volume even though the same amount of fluid filled both cups. Transformation is a young person’s able to understand how certain physical characteristics change while others remain the Same in a logical, cause and effect sequence. According to Piagets, Preoperational Children do not readily understand how things can change from one form to another. The concept of conservation can apply to numbers as well, such as rearranging six keys to make a different formation does not change the number of items present.
Piaget: Preoperational children have a style of thinking characterized by Egocentrism. Piaget believes that children under the age of 4 can’t organize things into hierarchical categories. Young children are unable to group items in larger sub-groups and smaller sub- Groups based on similarities and differences, he says. PreOperational children also believe that things are alive or have human characteristics because they grow or move, a type of thinking called Animism.
Research suggests that Piaget’s ideas about Preoperational children were not entirely correct. When young children are tested using ideas and objects that are familiar to their everyday lives, they are better able to demonstrate their abilities. Psychologists think that animism is a way that children express their imagination and process how objects work in a fashion that’s easy for them to understand. Most children know that inanimate objects aren’t alive, and can group their toys into hierarchies. In the preoperational stage children often display egocentric thought, particularly toward the end of this stage.
The next sub-stage in Piaget’s Preoperational cognitive development is the “Intuitive Thought” which spans ages 4-7 years. Children in this stage of development learn by asking questions such as, “Why?” and “How come?” These children typically hone in on one characteristic of someone or something and base their decisions or judgment on that one characteristic. De-centering, combined with the concept of conservation are prerequisites to more sophisticated logical thinking abilities.
Children in the Intuitive Thought sub-stage show many advances in cognitive skills. They shift from depending on magical beliefs to using rational beliefs to explain situations. Very young children may explain that a new house “grew out of the ground”.