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Conservation in Child Development

  • 6 Pages
  • Published On: 2-12-2023

In child development, conservation is a form of logical thinking ability first studied by Jean Paiget. According to sante & Hanson (2018), being able to conserve entails knowing that quantity does not change even if it is altered by cutting, spread out, elongate or stretched. As such, there are seven tasks that tend to be generally acquired by children during their developmental stages, namely weight, area, volume, mass, liquid and length. That said, research Nsolezi (2018) show that the practice of conservation makes children better at mathematics. Therefore, it is important that when an opportunity presents itself, children should practice various kinds of conservation such as cutting food into smaller pieces and understanding that doing so does not actually change the amount of food.


Sand or water play are an enjoyable activity to most children in their early years. However, such activities are not only useful in keeping the children occupied but can also be used to develop a self-directed play that helps the children to understand mathematical concepts of conservation. According to Burgén & Börjesson (2017), sand and water play enables children to try out new play with quantities, use mathematical language, pose questions and learn quantity-based problem-solving skills, especially in when they are playing within a group where no specific answers are sought for. As they engage in sand and water play, the children encounter new conservation challenges and improve they are understanding by trying out different experiments in different ways. It helps them have a deeper understanding of quantities (Tampubolon et al, 2017).

Conservation tasks evaluates a child’s ability to acknowledge that some characteristics are invariant or conserved after an object has undergone a physical transformation. However, research indicate that the age at which children can complete evaluation tasks vary; and that individual differences can cause some children to develop such skills later than others. However, according to Streif et al (2021), most children can perform conservation tasks as from the age of 4-5 year, while others can begin to develop such abilities as from 6-8 years. However, as per Siper & Moore (2021), length and mass conservation abilities begin at age 7, conservation of weight round the age of 9 years while the conservation of volume begins at around the age of 11 years.

Piaget’s scientific explorations enabled him to identify the stages through which children go through when learning to conserve. In the first stage, the children still do not have the ability to conserve. However, during tasks of liquid conservation, children tend to acknowledge that the liquid in a tall glass is of more quantity that the liquid in a shorter one, therefore they cannot differentiate between amount and height (Gibson et al, 2019). In the second stage, during liquid conservation, children’s judgment tends to expand to include width as one of the reasons, and therefore they may answer that a stouter shorter glass has more liquid than a skinny, tall glass (Starkey & Gelman, 2020). in the third stage, according to Piaget, children have mastered the ability to conserve acknowledge that width and height have no effect on amounts (Liu & Tegmark, 2021). that said, conservers tend to have a firm belief on their answers, especially when they are paired with non-conservers (Starkey & Gelman, 2020). Similarly, according to Streif et al (2021), conservers are more likely to manipulate the task materials to prove their points as well as offer multiple explanations to achieve the same.

That said, training tasks have been discovered to be more effective in teaching non-conserving children to participate in conservation tasks (Starkey & Gelman, 2020). as young as four years, children can be trained on conservation using operant training, which entails repeating conservation tasks and correcting incorrect responses while reinforcing correct responses (Gibson et al, 2019).

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In education, conserving children tend to show higher levels of fluency in separately timed subtraction and addition mathematical problems compared to non-conserving children (Gibson et al, 2019). Research by Streif et al (2021) highlighted the significance of logical-reversible thought as an essential element of conservation skills – especially in the ability of the child to perform inverse mathematical operations. On the other hand, according to Streif et al (2021), non-conserving children, engaging with other children and asking questions about objects in their surrounding to help them develop better logical thinking capabilities. Appendix 1 demonstrates a number conservation activity lesson plan.


Asante, J. N., & Hanson, R. (2018). Exploring Ghanaian Children Conservation of Number.

Gibson, D. J., Gunderson, E. A., Spaepen, E., Levine, S. C., & Goldin‐Meadow, S. (2019). Number gestures predict learning of number words. Developmental science, 22(3), e12791.

Liu, Z., & Tegmark, M. (2021). Machine Learning Conservation Laws from Trajectories. Physical Review Letters, 126(18), 180604.

Nsolezi, F. S. (2018). The influence of child-caregivers’ interactions on Piagetian conservation tasks performances in Tanzania (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Dodoma).

Sipper, M., & Moore, J. H. (2021). Conservation machine learning: a case study of random forests. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 1-6.

Starkey, P., & Gelman, R. (2020). The development of addition and subtraction abilities prior to formal schooling in arithmetic. In Addition and Subtraction (pp. 99-116). Routledge.

Streif, M., Leib, M., Wudarski, F., Rieffel, E., & Wang, Z. (2021). Quantum algorithms with local particle-number conservation: Noise effects and error correction. Physical Review A, 103(4), 042412.

Appendix 1:Activity plan

Activity: Number conservation task
Age bracket: 6-year olds

Round counters


Children are placed in two parallel lines of the same length, then the teacher spreads out the counters in one of the two lines to make it longer than the other. The teacher then asks whether there are same numbers of different number of counters in each line. Typically, a child who cannot conserve will answer that the longer line has more counters than the shorter line, while the child who can conserve will answer that each line has the same number of counters. The teacher then reassembles the line of counters to ensure that the lines are of equal length, and make the child agree that they are of the same length. The teacher than moves the counters in one line close to the together so that the line is shorter; before asking again of the two lines have the same counters, or if there are different number of counters in each line.

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