Children’s Tool Use

As children play with objects and watch adults using objects, they learn how the world works. Eventually children learn that objects are defined by their uses. Children also learn to think flexibly about possible object uses. We found that from 3 to 5 years children learn that every object has a function (that is, an abstract concept of ‘function’). They also get better at classifying objects by function, and labeling things based on how they work.


Deák, G.O. (2014). Development of adaptive tool-use in early childhood: sensory-motor, social, and conceptual factors. In J. Benson (Ed.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 46. Elsevier.

Deák, G.O. (2006). Representing object functions: The cognitive basis of tool-use by children. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Development and Learning. Indiana University-Bloomington.

Deák, G.O., Ray, S.D., & Pick, A.D. (2004). Effects of age, reminders, and task difficulty on young children’s rule-switching flexibility. Cognitive Development, 19, 385-400.

Deák, G.O., Ray, S.D., & Pick, A.D. (2002). Matching and naming objects by shape or function: Age and context effects in preschool children. Developmental Psychology, 38, 503-518.

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