Piaget’s Relational Concepts & Busy Book Project

Piaget is probably one of my most favorite theorists to teach about!  I “get” his theory of how children learnPreoperational.period and the stages or periods they go through. I’ve seen it in action with many of the preschoolers that participated in our school’s Circle Time program as well as in my own children!  I think the other reason I really like teaching this theory is because it’s so “hands on” and interactive!  If you’ve never taught about Piaget’s relational concepts, check out below lesson, activities and project.


  • This lesson is part of Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development known as the Pre-Operational Period.  The first stage or period is known as the Sensorimotor Period and ideas for that stage can be found here and here.


  • Previously we discussed Piaget’s Sensorimotor Period which begins at birth and continues until approximately age 2.  Our focus today will be Piaget’s Pre-Operational Period which begins around age 2 and continues through approximately age 7.


  • Bags of Objects that can be Grouped (bugs, animals, dinosaurs, buttons, vehicles, etc.)
  • Fruit Loops & Yarn
  • Hula Hoop
  • Construction Paper & Art Supplies
  • Felt & Fabric Paint, Beads, Glue, Etc.
  • iPads or Laptops
  • Projector & Screen


  • Children in this period are trying to gain and understanding of relational concepts.  A great way to help students understand these is to have them participate, perform, and/or view a series of activities. Students will be doing these as they are taking notes about the concepts found in the PPT below.
  • Classification–Grouping Objects:  I like to put my students into small groups and give them a bag of objects.  Students have to figure out how many ways the objects can be grouped (size, shape, color, etc.).  One group may have a bag of bugs, another a bag of dinosaurs, another a bag of animals, buttons or vehicles.  This is a very hands on way for students to interact with the objects.  If you didn’t have bags of objects to use for this activity, you could have the class group themselves by your characteristics such as by hair color or shoe style.  Ultimately, I have both groups try to stump me.  I stand outside the room and students figure out a way to group themselves that is visible and when I step back in the room, I try to guess their classification.  Most times I figure it out, but every so often I have a group “stump” me, which makes it fun!
  • Seriation–Ranking Objects or Sequencing Things:  For this one, I do a couple of things.  First, I have students line themselves up from youngest to oldest, or shortest to tallest.  Another activity is to give them each a piece of yarn and a snack baggie of “Fruit Loops”.  Students must sequence their Fruit Loops according to the order that I give them such as pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple until they can no longer complete the sequence.  At that point they may eat the extras!  This activity is also a great example of implementing fine motor skills.
  • Spatial Relationships–Under, Over, Beside, Through, Etc.:  Students line up and join hands.  The object is to get the Hula Hoop from one end of the line to the other without releasing hands.  Students have fun taking the hoop down the line by taking it over their heads and stepping through it.  I basically explain to them that it’s about using those prepositions you learned in English class.  So to practice applying their spatial prepositions, they play “I Spy” to help give clues and find pictures.  Example:  find the yellow tulip that is above the purple rhino.  They must change up their prepositions with each round.
  • Temporal Relations–Time:  This one is difficult for younger children in this stage because they have no concept of time.  For example, how many of you have witnessed young children on a road trip?  The repetitive question is “When will we get there?”  You could tell them a specific number or minutes, hours or miles, but they don’t understand because they can’t comprehend how long that period of time is.  Once children learn to tell time, this becomes more understandable.
  • Lack of Conservation:  Children in this stage do not understand things can be reversed or return to their original status.  This includes identity, mass, volume, numbers, and money.  Many times I actually demonstrate the experiments as per the below descriptions:
    • Identity:  I share a story of a study done with a group of children at Halloween.  Children were introduced to a cat named “Menard the Cat” and asked whether they should feed him cat food or dog food.  All of the children replied, “cat food”.  Then they showed the children a dog mask and put it on Menard the Cat, directly in front of the children.  They again asked what to feed Menard and what do you think the children said?  They all replied “dog food”.  Moral:  What you see is what you get with children!
    • Lack of Mass: Make two equal balls of play-doh.  Ask students if they are the same–yes. Smash one flat and ask if they are the same.  Children will say “No” that there is more in the ball because the other is flat.
    • Lack of Volume:  Fill two glasses (same size) with the same amount of colored water.  Ask students if they contain the same amount of water–yes.  Pour one glass into a tall, thin container and ask if they have the same amount of water.  Children in this stage will say “NO” that the taller container has more because it’s higher.
    • Lack of Numbers:  Use buttons or pennies and line them up in 2 rows of 8 and ask if the rows are the same–yes.  Now spread out the bottom row and ask if the rows are the same.  Children in this stage will say “NO” that the bottom row has more because it’s longer.  Children don’t understand one to one correspondence.
    • Lack of Money:  I read my students the Shel Siverstein poem, titled “Smart” to illustrate this one.
  • If you don’t wish to demo the experiments described above or wish to reinforce, showing actual children in the experiments, this video clip is a good one.
  • Students apply the relational concepts in a follow-up activity “What Will They Learn?”
  • Finally, students are put into groups to create a no sew busy book of activities that incorporate Piaget’s relational concepts.  Students can create these out of felt or construction paper but must decide on the medium as a group, prior to constructing the books.  Each student creates 5 activity pages for chosen age group. The busy books must also have a cover and title.  I like to show my students a sample of ideas via this website.



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