The concrete operational stage is one of the earlier stages in a person’s development and sees the conversion from more basic cognitive function to higher levels of complex thought.

By understanding more about what the concrete operational stage is, schools have an opportunity to make the most of this development and improve the prospects that young people have. Learn what this stage of development is and some of the main features of the concrete operational stage below.

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What is the concrete operational stage?

The concrete operational stage refers to the stage of development that students go through between the ages of seven and eleven. One of the main characterizing factors of this stage is the focus on logical thought and the development of rationality in young people. Thinking in young people is still very concrete and one-track-minded in this stage of development but shows clear trends towards a greater level of reasoning and abstract ideas. According to theorist Jean Piaget, this is essential to a young person’s development.

The aspects of the concrete operational stage

There are several parts of developing a young person goes through in the concrete operational stage. These stages in development include:

Learning logic

At this stage of a young person’s development, they learn logical thinking. Children at this stage of the process are strong with using inductive logic, with people taking an experience and inducing a theory from that experience, such as recognizing that eating peanuts makes your throat itchy and thus avoiding peanuts.

The concrete operational stage features the transition from induction to deduction, in which young people take the next step in their logical reasoning. Returning to the peanut analogy, someone who eats peanuts and notes that it makes their throat itchy takes the next deductive step, resolving their allergy. Transitioning to the next stage of reasoning occurs at this point in life.

Understanding reversibility

Reversibility refers to the idea that young people can reverse specific actions or concepts. This includes how young people categorize things, such as understanding that their favorite food is pizza, and this reverses the fact that pizza is a food without pizza being all foods.

This concept primarily focuses on relationships and develops the idea of relationships between concepts in more detail in young people. To a toddler, events always occur in one linear direction, such as tying a shoelace or painting a wall. At the concrete stage, reversibility is a cornerstone in a young person’s understanding of change, such as untying shoelaces or repainting walls.


Conservation refers to the idea that it is still the same thing despite a substance changing shape, structure, or appearance. For example, if you have penne pasta and rigatoni available, a toddler sees a clear difference between the two, believing them to be entirely independent of one another. The concrete stage introduces the idea that the substance is the same in both, even if the structure differs.

This is a necessary step in growing people’s maturity in their daily lives. People recognize that an Easter Egg that is broken is the same amount and quality of chocolate as one that is still put together. While separate from the rational thought mentioned earlier, this is a fundamental part of formative development.

Greater observation

The concrete operational stage brings a greater level of observation and attention to detail in young people. This specifically refers to the concept of decentration, the capacity to look at a situation or system in greater detail by examining the parts of the issue rather than the more significant ones. An example of this is the dynamics of social situations.

More observation and the use of decentration is a fundamental parts of empathy in young people. Children with a greater degree of decentration understand other people’s feelings and why they feel that way, improving their social relationships.

Thriving in the concrete operational stage

There are some steps that schools look to take when encouraging young people to thrive in this stage of their development, such as:

Intellectual stimulation

Studies show that introducing young people to greater mental stimulation is a significant step in growing from pre-operational to concrete operational stages. Presenting young people with intellectual challenges leads to an apparent uptick in performance in academic challenges, which provides a stronger foundation for a young person’s learning.

Use complex games

Using games in a young person’s development has an evident benefit, and using games focusing on mental stimulation and complexity is ideal. One example of a game for young people to use in the concrete operational stage is chess. Chess uses all of the features mentioned previously, including:

  • Logic: Deducing the opponent’s strategy and thinking steps ahead
  • Reversibility: The knowledge that many pieces can return to their initial position
  • Conservation: An understanding that, although some pieces may have moved, they can still be on the board
  • Observation: Seeing that there are lots of details on the board, each with its implication

Pay attention

Many of these steps are internal to the child, with deduction happening in their heads rather than verbally. Where possible, encourage students to vocalize their thought processes and discuss their route to a response. This helps parents, teachers, and carers track young people’s development and guide it.