Symbolic Function Substage

The symbolic function substage, as defined by Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, is the third substage of the preoperational stage. It occurs between the ages of approximately 2 and 7 years. During this substage, children develop the ability to use symbols to represent objects and events, allowing them to engage in symbolic play and understand the concept of conservation.


1. Symbols and Pretend Play: Children at this substage engage in a great deal of symbolic play, using objects to represent something else. For example, they may use a stick as a sword or a box as a car. This type of play demonstrates their growing ability to understand and use symbols.

2. Symbolic Thinking: Children begin to use language and mental imagery to represent objects, actions, and events that are not physically present. They can imagine and understand abstract concepts, allowing them to think beyond what they can directly experience.

3. Egocentrism: Egocentrism is still present during this substage, although it becomes less dominant. Children are able to understand that others have different perspectives, but may still struggle to fully grasp these differing viewpoints.


One of the key developments during the symbolic function substage is the understanding of conservation. Conservation refers to the understanding that certain properties of objects, such as volume, mass, or number, remain the same even when their appearance is altered. For example, a child at this substage can recognize that pouring water from a tall and thin glass into a short and wide glass does not change the amount of water present, despite the altered appearance.

Overall, the symbolic function substage represents a significant cognitive milestone in a child’s development, as they acquire the ability to use symbols and engage in more complex and abstract thinking.