Inspired by this piece on capuchin monkeys and their ability to select tools,the Leap Institute of Home-school research, here in Tamassee,SC, undertook to evaluate the way children select and use tools of their own.

During the course of a school day, several common implements were distributed on the floors and tables of our home.  Children were evaluated for their ability to recognize the implement as a tool and use it correctly.

Standard pliers:

Child A, 14-year-old male:  immediately applied pliers to siblings’ appendages.  Not exactly the recommended use of the tool, but used in a manner consistent with design.

Child B, 12-year-old male:  attempted to dismantle television, then applied to sibling’s appendages.  Closer to appropriate use, but likewise involved mild, cartoonish violence.

Child C, 9-year-old male:  held pliers like knife and threatened to stab siblings.

Child D, 8-year-old female:  used pliers to attempt to communicate with imaginary friend in fairy-world


Child A, held hammer as if firearm, pointing it assorted objects in room.  ‘Look, I’m Master-Chief!’  (Reference to video game Halo, for the uninitiated.)

Child B, held hammer overhead and declared, ‘I’m Thor, god of Thunder,’ reflecting excellent knowledge of Norse Mythology, but uncertain comprehension of hammer.  Fortunately, also used hammer to drive nails back into deck.  Reassuring to parents/researchers.
Child C, desired to melt hammer to discern metallurgic contents.  Then chased child D around room saying, ‘this is a war-hammer!’

Child D, wisely hid hammer in enormous Barbie house; perhaps most discerning of study subjects.

Magnifying glass:

Children  A, B and C all looked briefly at sleeping cat’s face.  Then each used magnifying glass to initiate fire in yard, with flames 3-4 feet in height.

Child D  Used magnifying glass to apply smooth coat of lip-gloss and nail-polish in anticipation of teen years, terrifying to father/principal researcher.

Spool of insulated electrical wire:

Child A  Created picture of monkey trying to open nut

Child B Applied battery to wire and sustained minor burn

Child C Tied sleeping siblings in chairs and recited endless scientific and historic facts

Child D  Made jewelry, and string bikini, for Malibu Barbie

As you can see, not all tools are apparently self-explanatory, but children are very creative in their uses of whatever material presents itself.  Hopefully, further research will follow.


Director of pediatric/primate research at Leap Institute of Home-school Research

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