Concrete Operational Stage: The Truth about Language Development


Congratulations! Your child is going to Grade 1! It is the start of her formal reading education. You have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it excites you, but you also want her to succeed in school. Knowing what to expect and what you can do to give her an advantage will go a long way to ease your mind.

Let’s have a look at this stage in your child’s life. According to Piaget’s model, the concrete operational phase lasts from seven to twelve years. This stage covers elementary to preadolescent children.

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1. What Is the Concrete Operational Stage?

Language Development: Concrete Operational Stage (7-12 years)

To understand this concept better, let us analyse the two words defining this stage. Concrete refers to material things, and operational means thinking and operating logically. Their thinking is becoming more rational but is still limited to material things. At this stage, they also start to understand cause and effect. For example, your child stops playing with the cat because she made a logical link that playing with the cat causes her to sneeze. 

Children focus less on themselves and become more aware of external events. They discover that they are unique, with their own thoughts and feelings not shared by others and often not even part of their reality. But, children of this age group can’t think abstractly or hypothetically.

The concrete operational stage is a transitional stage. It occurs between the previous preoperational stage and the following formal operational stage.

2. Characteristics of the Concrete Operational Stage

2.1 Classification

In the concrete operational stage children can classify or sort items into categories.

Classification is about grouping items into categories. Your child understands that things fit in different categories like plants, animals, toys, etc. Now she starts to group them into subcategories. For instance, she can group flowers based on colour or classify animals as animals that fly or swim.

Try the Piaget experiment

Piaget has experimented with explaining the concepts of classification and decentralisation. Try this experiment. Show her some puzzle pieces. Ask her: ‘Which are the most, the middle pieces or all the pieces?’ At age five, she will most likely say more middle pieces. But in the concrete operational stage, she will answer: ‘More puzzle pieces.’

The idea is to see if she understands that all the puzzle pieces together, are more than the middle pieces.

Now she uses decentralisation to focus on two things at the same time: number and class. They understand that it is possible to group items into categories (flowers) and sub-classes (different coloured flowers). During this process, she uses bot classification and decentralisation.

2.2 Conservation and Decentration

She understands how something can have the same quantity even if it looks different. For example, her playdough is still the same size regardless of whether she rolls it out flat or in a ball. 

Decentration relates to conservation and is necessary to understand conservation. She needs to know that certain items are still the same number regardless of how far apart you space them. She understands this concept because she can manipulate numbers and length.

Let us test these concepts. During your child’s snack time, pour your child’s juice into a tall cup. Before giving it to her, pour it into a smaller cup. Is she happy to accept the smaller glass because she knows the amount of juice is still the same? Then she understands these two concepts. 

2.3 Reversibility

Reversibility develops in the concrete operational stage.

Reversibility means that she understands that you can reverse actions. She knows your car is a Chevrolet and that a Chevrolet is a car, and a car is a vehicle. She recognises that numbers or items can change and return to their original condition. For example, she knows that in the same way a bike tyre can deflate, you can pump it up again to return to its original condition. 

Also Read:  An authentic exploration of language development in the sensorimotor stage

2.4 Seriation

Seriation means to sort items mentally in a specific order by size, location, or position. Would you please not confuse it with ordering, which refers to the ability to recognise differences between items? Examples are to arrange the children in the class from short to tall. Or placing picture cards in the order of events as it happens in a story. 

2.5 Sociocentricity

Your child is no longer focus only on herself but realise that every person has thoughts, feelings and a timetable. It makes life easier for you since she understands that she can’t always play a little bit longer when you need to get home to start cooking. She moves beyond her feelings and begins to think about other people’s needs. 

In practical terms, can your child tune in to others’ emotions and show empathy. For example, if you bump your toe and it is bleeding, will she bring you a plaster?

3. Reading during the Concrete Operational Stage

Logical and abstract thinking is the foundation for reading comprehension in the concrete operational stage.

We must remember that language acquisition is a natural process. But reading and writing need learning and adaptation. We all depend on language for communication. But, the cognitive processes involved in language development are pretty complex. 

Learning to read is a complex process. It starts by learning to sound out words. But your child needs to make a connection between

👀 the letters she sees on a page

📕 the words she reads

🎧 and the words she hears.

Logical and abstract thinking is the foundation for reading comprehension. It enables a child to read and understand what it means. The more you expose her to writing and various words, the more complex her thoughts will be. Reading aloud to children aids in comprehension since they only need to focus on understanding. 

We use reading comprehension in many daily tasks, such as shopping, working, driving, etc. 

Children with high reading comprehension will be able to function better in school and life. 

It poses the question: How do children learn to read and write during the various grades in school?

3.1 Concrete Operation Reading: Pre-school to Grade 1 (Age 6 – 7)

The first step in learning to read is the use of phonics. It is a process where your child needs to recognise letter sounds and combine them to form words. When writing, they will spell words the way they hear them, not knowing any spelling rules.  They know how to make sentences and use spaces to separate words.

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3.2 Concrete Operational Reading : Gr 2 and Grade 3 (Age 8 – 9)

Your child now understands the meaning of words and can read without help. Her reading comprehension improves. She understands central ideas and can put ideas together to form a complete picture.  To help them with understanding, ask them to explain how a story relates to their lives. 

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3.3 Concrete Operational Reading : Gr 4 and onwards (Age 10 – 12)

Your child has now mastered reading and can read longer novels and unfamiliar words. They understand what they read without help. Some children will become passionate readers, while others may show little interest. But regardless, reading is a skill that they will never lose

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4. Why do some children struggle with reading?

4.1 Phonemic Awareness

Some children struggle to recognise individual sounds from spoken words (phonemes). 

4.2 Decoding

It means that children struggle to sound out written words or to recognise familiar words and parts.

4.3 Limited Language Skills

Children struggles with reading because of hearing loss, autism, or dyslexia.

Various disabilities can cause language delays, making it challenging to learn to read. Hearing loss affects language development. Because these children can’t hear speech, it makes communication a challenge. Autism can cause language delays because of an inability to communicate. Intellectual disabilities like dyslexia, etc., also impair language development.

Psychosocial factors also have an impact. Factors can be neglect or abuse. Also,  a lack of stimulation and exposure to reading and books in lower socioeconomic groups. 

If you think your child is not reaching her language development milestones, look for help as soon as possible. The sooner you resolve any issues, the better her chance to catch up.  If the gap becomes too big for her to bridge, she will fall behind in her formal education, negatively impacting her academic success.

Also Read:  Exciting News! Language development starts with your unborn baby

See how a language-speech pathologist (SLP) can help.

5. Fun activities for the Concrete Operational Stage

  • Pour the same amount of milk into two different size glasses. Let your child tell you which glass contains more milk.
  • Surprise her with candy bars for snack time. Let her help you break a candy bar into pieces and put them all together on a plate. Now put the other candy bar whole on another plate. Let her choose between the two. She will understand that both candy bars are still the same quantity when she sees this for herself.
  • Children love building with Lego. Let her create a house, and then break it apart and scatter the pieces. Now ask her: ‘Were there more pieces in your house than scattered around?’
  • A simple way to help her grasp mathematic principles is by helping you when you bake. When you measure the ingredients, use the measuring cups to explain fractions. Ask her which ingredient is the most considerable amount. Then let her list them in order. (lowest to highest or highest to lowest). When she manages this, double the recipe next time as a challenge. To develop abstract thinking, give her simple word problems once she has mastered the concepts. 
  • There is a lot of fun activities using stories. Type up her favourite story and cut it into paragraphs. Then would you please help her to put the story into the correct sequence? 
  • Let your child imagine herself as one of the characters in a story and tell you what they will do next, how they feel, and how they dress for a party. 
  • During bath time, give her different toys to see if they will sink or float. Let her recall the steps you took. As a challenge, ask her to list these steps in reverse. What did you do last? And before that? Carry on in this way until she reaches the first step.
  • Children love parties. Let her help you plan a surprise party for a particular family member. They have to think and tell you that person’s favourite foods and what present she will like. It helps her move away from thinking only of herself and put herself into the shoes of someone else. Those cookies you’ve baked before can be pretty handy for this party. 

Seven to twelve years is an exciting stage in your child’s development. It means the start of her formal education and learning to read and write. Your reading sessions are now even more fun because she can take part in more activities. Role-playing and discussions about the books you read together are not enjoyable but excellent bonding time. And the books you read can give you a starting point to conversations about important issues and challenges your child is facing. 

Would you please not stop reading together because your child can now read by herself? Let her read to you or sit together reading your books. In this way, she will know that reading is an enjoyable activity, and you will instil a love for reading that will last her a lifetime.

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Now readers, do you have any tips that you would like to share with us about how you encourage a love for reading in your child(ren)? Please share with us in the comments.

Article References

Hi! I am Susan

Welcome to my adventure

Why Read or Rot?

I have started reading at the age of four. I can remember how I often read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to sleep.

During my early school years, we visited the library once a week. I couldn’t pick out my new book fast enough! By the end of the period, I would have finished it already, leaving me with nothing to read for the rest of the week!

Growing up, Fridays was the highlight of my week. Dad would pack the whole family into the car, and off we go! You guessed right – to the library! We were a family of readers.

In my adult years, I’ve developed a variety of interests like technology, photography, gardening and even writing. But reading was and will always be a part of my life!

Reading for me is like breathing. If I cannot read, my soul will quietly rot away

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Gail Aldwin

    An erudite overview of how children learn and what parents can do to support this journey. A timely post with lots of useful suggestions.

    1. Hi Gail,

      Thank you for your kind comment. I am happy you’ve found the article useful.

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