The process of learning the designed actions of toys

Brianna E. Kaplan, Jaya Rachwani, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many everyday objects require “hidden” affordances to use as designed (e.g., twist open a water bottle). Previous work found a reliable developmental progression in children's learning of designed actions with adult objects such as containers and zippers—from non-designed exploratory actions, to the basics of the designed action, to successful implementation. Many objects designed for children (e.g., toys) also entail designed actions (e.g., interlocking bricks) but might not require a protracted period of discovery and implementation. We encouraged 12- to 60-month-old children (n = 91) and a comparative sample of 20 adults to play with six Duplo bricks to test whether the developmental progression identified for children's learning of adult objects with hidden affordances holds for a popular toy expressly designed for children. We also examined whether children's moment-to-moment behaviors with Duplo bricks inform on general processes involved in discovery and implementation of hidden affordances. With age, children progressed from non-designed exploratory actions, to attempts to interlock, to success, suggesting that the three-step developmental progression revealed with everyday adult objects broadly applies to learning hidden affordances regardless of object type. Detailing the process of learning (the type and timing of children's non-designed actions and attempts to interlock) revealed that the degree of lag between steps of the progression depends on the transparency of the required actions, the availability of perceptual feedback, and the difficulty of the perceptual–motor requirements. Findings provide insights into factors that help or hinder learning of hidden affordances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105442
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Affordances
  • Designed actions
  • Manual action
  • Object exploration
  • Perceptual–motor skills
  • Toy play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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