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In this assignment, you will conduct a very simple experiment; a test of conservation using children who are currently in Piaget’s stage of preoperational thought which begins in toddlerhood and goes into middle childhood (approximately 2-6 or 7 years of age).  Preoperational children tend to centrate:  they focus on one aspect of a situation and neglect others, often coming to illogical conclusions.  They cannot think simultaneously about several aspects of a situation. 

           A classic example is Piaget’s most famous experiment.  He designed it to test children’s development of conservation – the awareness that two things that are equal remain so if their shape is altered so long as nothing is added or taken away.  He found that children do not fully understand this principle until the stage of concrete operations, normally in middle childhood. 

Your task is to show a child (4-6 years old) two identical clear glasses, both short and wide and holding the same amount of water or juice.  Then pour the water from one glass into a third taller, thinner glass.  Now ask the child whether both glasses contain the same amount of water, or whether one contains more.  Wait for the child to answer (most likely he/she will say that the tall glass has more water).  Then ask the child why he/she answered the way they did.  Then pour the water from the tall glass back into the short glass and ask the child whether the glasses now the same amount of water have (if the child is truly preoperational he/she will say they are equal again).

  1. Record the child’s age.
  2. Record exactly what you ask the child.
  3. Record the child’s exact answers to your questions.
  4. Answer the question: Is the child in the stage of preoperational thought?  What leads you to draw this conclusion?


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