Respecting Centration

Respecting Centration

It is important to remember that it is not merely that children know less than adults, they think differently. The mental machinery of the early years is still rather crude and unsophisticated, and it has many heavy-duty limitations. Consequently, if your little one cannot perform certain tasks or does seemingly stupid things, keep in your mind the fact that her mind does not yet have the ability to operate like yours.For instance, preschoolers are limited by what is called “centration” or one-dimensional thinking. They will typically focus on one aspect of a problem and ignore other important aspects. Show your child a tall, thin glass of milk and a short, wide glass of milk then ask which has more. She probably will choose the former because “taller is more than shorter.”

Now this is a smart kid. She knows quite well that “wider is more than thinner” too. But in order to get the question right – to realize they both hold the same amount – she would have to factor in both height and width at the same time. And at this point in development, she simply cannot do that. She can look at height or she can look at width, but she can’t deal with both simultaneously.

Consequently, it is inappropriate to give young children multi-dimensional problems that they do not yet have to cognitive tools to handle. And it is appropriate to just be patient. Within a couple of years those tools will develop and she will have no difficulty at all dealing with increasingly complicated problems.

Dr. Mike

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at