• Jul 26, 2021
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The preoperational stage according to Piaget: characteristics and examples

Since we are boys and girls, we develop capacities that allow us to understand and adapt to society. Have you ever wondered how and when we learn them? The psychologist Jean Piaget did it and developed a theory to explain how, from the time we are small or small, we acquire knowledge. Specifically, between the ages of 2 and 7 we acquire vital skills for our development. Piaget's theory christened this period preoperational stage.

In this Psychology-Online article, you will see the characteristics and examples of Piaget's preoperational stage, the second stage of the Swiss psychologist's theory of cognitive development.

You may also like: Piaget's theory of cognitive development


  1. What is the pre-operational stage?
  2. Characteristics of the preoperational stage
  3. Piaget's experiments of the preoperational stage
  4. Examples of the preoperational stage

What is the pre-operational stage?

What is Piaget's preoperational stage? According to cognitive development theory It begins when boys and girls, ages 2 to 7, use language, pictures, and symbols to represent real aspects of their environment. During this period, they begin to understand their surroundings and develop the ability to communicate with words, count objects, and draw thoughts and ideas.

This phase of children's cognitive development is called preoperational because the little ones are not yet able to use logic efficiently.

Substages of the preoperational stage

The theory of cognitive development divides the preoperational stage into two substages:

  • Symbolic or pre-conceptual: goes from 2 to 4 years. They understand the world around them through concrete images. They associate the meaning of the words with the lived experience. They have preconceptions of what surrounds them based on what they perceive through the senses.
  • Intuitive or conceptual: It goes from 4 to 7 years. They have an immediate perception of their surroundings. They use images and sensory experiences to identify concepts and internalize what each one of them means.

Characteristics of the preoperational stage.

According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, during the preoperational stage boys and girls develop a series of characteristics. Next, we will see the characteristics of Piaget's preoperational stage:

  • Centralization: the little ones tend to focus only on one object or aspect of each situation in which they find themselves. They have trouble taking more than one feature into account at a time. In addition, it is difficult for them to change the focus of attention in social contexts.
  • Egocentrism: they are only able to see situations from their own experience. They are unable to take another person's point of view into account. It is what is known as infantile egocentricity.
  • Play: Between 2 and 7 years old, boys and girls can play in the same room with other children but they do not interact or bond with them. As they develop during the preoperational stage, according to Piaget, they learn to play and interact with others.
  • Symbolic representation: they have the ability to carry out an action to represent a specific event. The main tool of symbolic representation that they learn in the preoperational stage of cognitive development is language.
  • Symbolic game: another of the characteristics of the preoperational stage is that boys and girls are able to play at being other people, such as astronauts or superheroes. Symbolic play helps them get to know the people and objects around them through words, objects, and symbols. In this article, you can see more about the symbolic game.
  • Animism: children believe that everything around them is alive and has a purpose. They have the tendency to bestow human qualities and feelings on inanimate objects.
  • Artificialism: small and small are interested in the natural world but believe that phenomena such as trees, animals or clouds are created by people.
  • Irreversibility: one of the characteristics of the preoperational stage is the inability to reverse the directionality of a sequence of events to its starting point. For example, after placing a series of objects in a specific order, boys or girls are not able to carry out the same steps that they have followed to do it in the opposite order.

Piaget's experiments of the preoperational stage.

Piaget conducted studies to support his theory of infantile egocentricity with real examples. The best known is the three mountains experiment. To carry out the test, the following steps must be followed:

  1. A child sits in front of a table on which there is a model with three different mountains: one with snow, one with a house on top, and another with a red cross on top.
  2. The child is allowed to spin around the model.
  3. A doll is placed in different places on the table.
  4. The child is shown 10 photographs of the mountains in the model taken from different positions. The objective is for the child to indicate which photograph shows the doll's perspective.
  5. Result: if he is able to identify what the doll sees and is right, it means that he has overcome his egocentric vision of the world. If, on the other hand, the child only points to the photograph that corresponds to his vision, he is still egocentric.

With this experiment, Piaget concluded that from the age of 6, boys and girls begin to be able to overcome the childish egocentricity.

The preoperational stage according to Piaget: characteristics and examples - Piaget's experiments of the preoperational stage

Examples of the preoperational stage.

In the preoperational stage there are activities that are very important for the cognitive development of children. Specifically, during this stage they develop many capacities thanks to games. Next, we will see how we can work on cognitive development in the preoperational stage.

How to work in the pre-operational stage

During the preoperational stage of Piaget there are activities that help to improve the development of the cognitive capacities of boys and girls. We'll see real examples of these activities according to age:

  • 2 years: play to imitate the people in the environment.
  • 3-4 years: draw objects and figures by scribbling.
  • 4-5 years: build objects with different materials. Musical games are also recommended at this age.
  • 5-6 years: invent imaginary friends to learn how to create friendship bonds.
  • 6-7 years: perform role-playing games in which each participant has a character more adjusted to reality. For example, the roles of the family where everyone has a specific role.
The preoperational stage according to Piaget: characteristics and examples - Examples of the preoperational stage

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to The preoperational stage according to Piaget: characteristics and examples, we recommend that you enter our category of Cognitive psychology.


  • Borke, H. (1975). Piaget’s mountains revisited: Changes in the egocentric landscape. Developmental Psychology, 11(2), 240.
  • Piaget, J. (1951). The Child's Conception of the World. Minnesota: Humanities Press
  • Piaget, J., and Inhelder, B. (2015). Child psychology. Madrid: Morata Editions.
  • Saldarriaga-Zambrano, P., Bravo-Cedeño, G. and Loor Rivadeneira, M. (2016). The constructivist theory of Jean Piaget and its significance for contemporary pedagogy. Science Mastery, 2, 127-137.
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