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A Case Study On Children’s Conservation Ability

University of Georgia

A Case Study on Children’s Conservation Ability

Conservation is the ability to understand that the basic characteristics of an object remain the same despite changes in appearance. According to Piaget (1952), conservation is a key milestone in cognitive development during the concrete operations stage, which occurs between the ages of 7 and 11 (Piaget, 1952). Further, Piaget (1952) explains that children develop conservation skills during the concrete operations stage, characterized by the ability to apply reversible mental actions to concrete objects and integrate different dimensions of an object. This stage is also marked by the ability to overcome concentration, which means that children can focus on more than one aspect of an object at a time. This paper presents a report on a case study on Children’s conservation ability.

Factors for Conservation

This study entailed researching on child’s conservation ability by considering several factors for conservation. The first factor is critical thinking. According to Lamb et al. (2018), critical thinking involves using specific brain systems linked to advanced brain functions located in the prefrontal cortex. The second factor is attachment play. Attachment play is the interactive and playful exchange between caregivers and infants, emphasizing emotional connection and shared enjoyment (Watanabe, 2019). According to Watanabe (2019), attachment play helps children understand conservation concepts by providing opportunities for exploration and experimentation with objects of different sizes, shapes, and textures.

The third factor this study considered is mathematical play, which describes the playful and interactive experiences involving mathematical concepts and activities, such as counting, measuring, and geometric reasoning. According to Watanabe (2019), allowing children to play math-related games promotes the acquisition of mathematical concepts and skills, such as recognizing patterns, counting, and understanding mathematical operations. Lastly, this study also considered executive function as one of the factors for conservation. According to Watanabe (2020), executive function is important in acquiring conservation concepts like number, substance, weight, and volume.

Research Questions

The following were the research questions that the study aimed to answer.

1. Whether the child’s responses to the conservation tasks are consistent with Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory.

2. What factors affect the child’s conservation ability, and how do they affect it?


The participant in this study was a 5.5-year-old female who was enrolled in Kindergarten-3. She had two siblings, a 19-year-old sister and a 13-year-old brother. The tasks were performed in a quiet and distraction-free environment to minimize the impact of external factors on the participant’s performance. This study used an active manipulation approach, where the participant was actively engaged in the tasks rather than passively observing them. This approach is consistent with the embodied cognition theory, which suggests that cognition is a consequence of sensorimotor experience. This study aimed to examine the importance of active learning in acquiring and developing conservation concepts by actively engaging the participant in the tasks. This study also aimed to assimilate multisensory learning context in real life by using real-life stimuli and manipulatives with which the participant was familiar. This approach is consistent with the embodied cognition theory and aims to provide a more natural and realistic learning environment.

The other extraneous variables involved in this study included the participant’s attention span, motivation level, and familiarity with the task materials. This study used candies and clay pellets as stimulus materials. According to Mehler & Bever (1967), children respond differently to these stimuli. However, some children fail to replicate this finding (Piaget, 1968). Therefore, this study aimed to examine the impact of different materials on the participant’s performance in conservation tasks by using the two types of stimuli. The task order in this study was consistent with the acquisition order proposed by Breckinridge Church & Goldin-Meadow (1986), Piaget (1963), and Gulko et al. (1988). The tasks were administered in the following order: Number, Area, Matter, Liquid Quantity, Length, Weight, and Volume. This order is intended to reflect the natural progression of the acquisition of conservation concepts and minimize any potential order effects.


The participant successfully made judgments about volume by showing an understanding that the volume of clay balls remains the same despite changes in their shape. However, the participant struggled to explain the concept of volume clearly. On weight, the participant accurately weighed the clay balls but failed to understand the reversibility question, believing that the weight of the clay balls would change if the shape of the balls were changed. These findings suggest that the participant has a solid grasp of certain aspects of conservation but still needs further development and instruction in other areas.


The study involved interviewing the participant in several areas. The study assesses the participant’s critical thinking through question-asking, logical reasoning, and games. It evaluated attachment play by examining the parent-child relationship and interaction during play. The study assessed mathematical play by examining the child’s math-related education and games. Lastly, the study evaluated executive function through goal-oriented activities, physical activities, and the child’s self-control abilities, such as emotional control and sustained attention. The interview results suggest that the participant is interested in playing strategic games like Go, using electronic devices to play with AI, or her brother, which indicates an inclination towards critical thinking and logical reasoning. Despite the participant’s ability to play puzzles, the number of puzzles she played was low, suggesting limited exposure to mathematical play. The participant is constantly encouraged to ask questions and solve problems, contributing to developing critical thinking skills.

The participant also demonstrated above-average ability in mathematical play, specifically in conservation skills, which could result from exposure to Go, a game that promotes intellectual development in children and adolescents. The participant’s early exposure to math also likely contributed to her strong performance in mathematical play. This shows the importance of parental tutoring in attachment play and the positive effects of guided play in developing a children’s cognitive abilities. According to the interview results, the child’s parents have a positive and supportive parenting style, as they rarely scold her and give positive feedback on her performance. The parents also engage in activities that promote critical thinking and intellectual development by asking questions about storybooks and encouraging the child to ask questions and make discoveries during their time together. In addition, the parents help develop the child’s expression abilities by encouraging her to keep trying, which supports her learning process. These findings suggest that parental involvement in attachment and guided play positively influences children’s cognitive development and learning outcomes.

According to the interview results, the participant’s parents rarely spend much time with her; hence, she mostly plays without guidance and instructions, sometimes co-playing freely, which could negatively impact her cognitive development. However, frequent interactions with teachers in the kindergarten play a critical role in mitigating the reduced time the participant spends with her parents. Sometimes, the parents initiate games to achieve or problems to solve and allow the child to explore freely and provide hints and help when the child cannot complete the task alone, which is critical for the child’s development. On executive function, the participant shows an ability to perform goal-oriented tasks that involve planning and conducting, such as packing up books and toys and folding her clothes. The child was also proficient in using TaoBao to purchase goods and searching on phones via vocal inputs. She also demonstrated self-regulation and sustained attention in class. These findings suggest that the child has age-appropriate executive function abilities.


Breckinridge Church, R., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1986). The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition, 23(1), 43–71.

Lamb, R., Firestone, J., Schmitter-Edgecombe, M., & Hand, B. (2018). A computational model of student cognitive processes while solving a critical thinking problem in science. The Journal of Educational Research, 112(2), 243– 254.

Gulko, J., Doyle, A.-B., Serbin, L. A., & White, D. R. (1988). Conservation Skills: A Replicated Study of Order of Acquisition across Tasks. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 149(4), 425–439.

Mehler, J., & Bever, T. G. (1967). The cognitive capacity of very young children. Science, 158(3797), 141- 142.

Piaget, J. (1952). The Child’s Conception of Number. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Piaget, J. (1963). “Intellectual operations and their development” in The Essential Piaget: An Interpretive Reference and Guide, eds H. E. Gruber and J. J. Vonéche (New York, NY: Basic Books), 342–358.

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Watanabe, N. (2019). Attachment play related to Piaget’s conservation task with parents. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 11(2), 24.

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