Section 2, Article 1 - Early childhood is marked with the development of symbolic thought. This major cognitive accomplishment allows the child to use symbols to represent thoughts and things unseen. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget maintained that this stage of development is a time of preoperational intelligence. The second of his four stages of cognitive development, the preoperational stage ranges from roughly 2- to 7-years-old and is characterized by advances in language and imagination, however, logical (operational) thinking is not yet possible. Piaget defined operations as flexible cognitive processes that aid children to perform tasks that they previously could only perform physically. The developing ability in children to attach meaning to mental representations, such as words, number, and images is the foundation of symbolic thought. The symbolic function sub-stage, Piaget’s first sub-stage for preoperational thought, is the stage in which children between the ages of 2 and 4 start to form mental representations of objects that are not physically present ().
Four Stages of Cognitive Development
Relies on reflexes & sensory input
Advances in language & imagination
Reason based ideas
Abstract & conceptual thinking
Until the age of 6 children have several cognitive limitations that make logical thought difficult. The first of these limitation is centration, which is the tendency of preoperational children to concentrate on one specific aspect of a stimulus and ignore all others. Characteristic of centration is egocentric thought, which is seen as a self-centeredness resulting from young children’s inability to consider other’s points of view. The second limitation of the preoperational stage is the tendency for children to ignore all aspects that are not evident, only focusing on appearances. Static reasoning also limits children’s logical processes with the tendency to think that things do not change but rather remain the same. The last cognitive limitation in preoperational thinking is irreversibility, which is a cognitive inability to understand that things can be undone and restored to how they were before a change took place. Piaget’s famous display of conservation shows the limitations of preoperational thought. In this example children fail to understand that the amount of something remains the same despite a change in appearance.