Lori is four year old, and she is at Piaget’s preoperational stage. According to Piaget’s description of the preoperational stage children, they cannot understand his conservation tasks. This preoperational stage, “children can use representations (mental images, drawings, words, gestures) rather than just motor actions to think about objects and events. Thinking now is faster, more flexible and efficient, and more socially shared. Thinking is limited by egocentrism, a focus on perceptual states, reliance on appearances rather than underlying realities, and rigidity (lack of reversibility)” (Flavell, miller, 1993). The young children do not have abilities to have “operations mental actions that obey logical rules. Instead, their thinking is rigid, limited to one aspect of a situation at a time, and strongly influenced by the way things appear at the moment” (Berk, 1999). According to Piagetian conservation tasks, preoperational stage: 2-7 years old children lacked the knowledge to conserve. Conservation means, “ the understanding that certain physical characteristics of objects remain the same, even when their outward appearance changes” (Berk, 1999). Piaget’s test for conservation of number is described as two rows with same number of things (examples: coins, fruits, and candies that are equally spaced. Initially, young children knew these two rows had same number. If one row is shortened, children failed to notice that the two rows are the same. Piaget said young children did not realize these two rows are still the same number because they confused and did not see what adults see that help them to understand the task. Piaget said the ability to understand this task is “ in the face of a perceptual change,” and the “young child tends to be fooled by the misleading perceptual appearance” (Flavell, miller, 1993). On the Piaget’s task for conservation of length, he described this task as showing young children the two pencils, two pens, or two sticks with the equal length and children knew they were the same length. If showed them by moving one stick longer than the other one, they failed to know they were the same. Then Piaget’s task for conservation for liquid, he described this task as showing young children the same amount of water or juice in the two identical glasses and very fast they knew the two glasses of water or juice were the same. If poured one glass into a longer and thinner glass, children could not identify this glass had contained the same amount of water or juice as the original two identical glasses. According to Piaget’s explanation, children’s thinking is “perception bound” in preoperational stage and also they could not focus their attention on two aspects of the new glass, they were attentive only to one aspect which is that one glass is taller than the other two; they did not realize the taller glass had the same amount of liquid.
My subject is a four-year-old girl named Lori. She was born in California. I have known her since she was a baby. On weekends, I babysat Lori and her little brother, Mike, at my house. When Lori was about two years old, I taught her how to read a short Chinese poem. She could remember the poem without looking at it and recited in front of his parents and me. She was so curious about anything that she always had many “what and why” questions to ask. I was often inspired by her because she would come toward me and gave me the biggest hug and make me felt happy. Recently her parents sent her to a child day care center to be with other children that teaches only in English and she is frightened and frustrated. Because at home, her parents spoke only Chinese to her and she didn’t know any English, she felt no fun in school. I had invited her to come to my house, so I could talk to her and comforted her. Since I knew I taught her how to count and knew she had good memory, I decided to test Lori on Piagetian conservation tasks because she was so fascinating. Lori was also very interested because she loved to play with me.
My modifications in Piaget’s conservation tasks are as follow: first, I had Lori’s full attention to what I was doing at each step because when Piaget did his conservation tasks, he was not aware of whether the child’s attention was focused on his directions and his explanations of the tasks (Berk, 1999). Second, to have Lori’s attention on what I was going to show her, I needed to make Lori interested in the tasks. I believe young children like Lori need to be given tangible rewards. I used these tasks as some types of rewards Lori could take home with her after she did the tasks with me. Third, Lori needed to have easy numerical concepts, so she could understand when I showed her the measurement of the tasks. And the last modification, I had Lori experienced these tasks with me. I had her felt the tasks by touch and do the tasks with me. Thus, young children need hands on experience with these tasks, so they can think more logically as they follow the processes.
I followed Piaget’s conservation of number task first with Lori and without using my modifications, and of course Lori gave a wrong answer. She did not pay attention to me at all and she was curious about why I showed her the task and her mind was wondering off somewhere. I could not get her to focus on the tasks at all. Referring to Piaget’s experiment, I set two rows of ten buttons each in visual one-to-one correspondence, with one of the two equal-length rows placed directly above the other and have Lori agreed the two rows did have the equal-length. After that I moved the first row to look longer than the second row, Lori did not notice I had moved the first row. She saw only the first row now longer than the second row therefore she concludes the first row has more buttons than the second row. Piaget would explain Lori in preoperational stage, “tends to fooled by the misleading perceptual appearance, judging that the longer row now contains more” and that is why Lori failed the conservation of number (Flavell, miller, 1993).
In conservation of liquid, I also started with Piaget’s experience, Lori first agreed that two identical glasses contain the same amounts of water, and I pour water from one glass into the taller and thinner glass, with Lori watching, and then ask Lori whether the two amounts of water are still the same, or whether one glass now contains more water than the other. In this experiment, Lori would say the taller and thinner glass contains more water than the other one. Because to Piaget, children at this preoperational stage could not understand conservation of liquid, they only see the taller and thinner glass “looks like it has more, and accept things as they seem to be” (Flavell, miller, 1993).
To modify this conservation of number, I like to use candy for this task because is more fun and interest for Lori. She loves M&M candies. For this task, I had Lori sit close to the table so she could see me set up two rows of M&M candies, and hear me count loudly each row that had seven pieces of candies on the table. When I first showed Lori, I put both the numbers of candies and the lengths of the two rows equaled. I ask Lori to tell me if the two rows had the same amount of candies, and she told me these two rows were the same. She showed me by counting each row correctly, like this, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” and I told her to touch each candy as she counted, and she did the same to the second row. Then I mixed the candies and I ask her to imitate what I did last time. Lori did the two rows with equal amount of the candies because she remembered each row had seven candies. Again I ask her to look at the candies in these two rows if they were the same, and again she told me they were the same. Then I set up another set of candies with the same amount that I did with the first set. I ask Lori if I had the same two rows as her and she told me, “yes!” I showed her by moving the first row of candies further apart from each piece and ask her to do the same with the first rows she had and told her to count the candies in each row. She had counted them correctly. After that, I ask her the same question again and her answer is “they are the same.”
To modify this conservation of liquid, I had Lori help me mix the colored fruit juice and pour into the two exactly alike glasses. Lori was so happy that she learned to make juice, and she was very interest in the changed color of the water. Again I tried to have Lori’s interest, so she could focus on this task. I used the measure cup to have Lori identifies the numbers two on the cup so the two glasses had the same amount of juice and pour into them. I ask her are these two glasses had same amount of color fruit juice and her answer was “yes, there are the same.” Then I ask her to help me pouring the juice from one glass to the taller and thinner glass before that I have her to measure the juice and it showed on number two. I ask her the question again, and she knew immediately the taller and thinner glass has the same amount of juice as the one that look smaller.
In conclusion, Piaget would still consider Lori is too young to successfully accomplish his conservation tasks. But in my modification, I had show the significantly improve on Lori’s ability to do the task correctly. Lori’s attention, understanding the concept of numbers and the hands on experiences on the tasks made her realize that the outside appearances changed did not mean the change of the tasks. Based on the experiments, young children like Lori (preoperational stage) do conserve the number and do conserve the liquid very early in life contrary to the Piaget’s theory of stages and his tasks.
Flavell, J.M., Miller, P.H., & Miller, S.A. (1993). Cognitive Development. (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Laura E. Berk. (1999). Infants and Children. (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon