This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.

The Pre-Operational Stage (18 months-5 years)

From about the age of one and a half to the age of five or six, a child is in a second Piagetian stage of mental development: the pre-operational stage. A child of one and a half starts to use symbols. A child of this age may pretend a potato chip is a butterfly or make imaginary chewing motions on plastic play food.

What is Piaget's "pre-operational" stage?

The child in the pre-operational stage is stimulus-bound and egocentric. To be stimulus-bound is to be attentive to perceptual cues rather than abstractions or concepts. For example, a child of this age may value a nickel worth 5 cents over a dime worth 10 cents because the nickel is bigger, even if an adult maintains that the dime is more valuable.

How can a child's egocentric view be illustrated with a simple question?

Egocentric means self-centered or unable to take the viewpoint of someone else. If you face a child of three and ask the child to "raise the same hand I am raising" (then raise your right hand) the child will raise the left hand. Why? Evidently the child fails to reverse positions or take your place mentally. This changes a year or two later, when children start to realize other people can have a different perspective.

Children of preschool age show the egocentric perspective in social behavior, as well. They do not understand another person's different point of view or different past experiences. For example, a four year old will talk animatedly about a cartoon or video game to a grandparent or a stranger in the grocery store, oblivious to the fact that the other person does not know what they are talking about. Little children will pester adults even after being told that the parent needs some time to concentrate on an important task like studying. The small child is not trying to be selfish; he or she simply fails to appreciate the mental perspective of the other person.

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