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[Paper Spotlight] Hunter-Gatherer Children’s Object Play and Tool Use: An Ethnohistorical Analysis

Continuing the string of cool new publications, FCS members Sheina Lew-Levy & Noa Lavi's & their colleagues' new paper examines hunter-gatherer children's object play and tool use through an ethnohistorical analysis of 54 hunter-gatherers societies.

Hunter-Gatherer Children’s Object Play and Tool Use: An Ethnohistorical Analysis

Abstract: Learning to use, make, and modify tools is key to our species’ success. Researchers have hypothesized that play with objects may have a foundational role in the ontogeny of tool use and, over evolutionary timescales, in cumulative technological innovation. Yet, there are few systematic studies investigating children’s interactions with objects outside the post-industrialized West. Here, we survey the ethnohistorical record to uncover cross-cultural trends regarding hunter-gatherer children’s use of objects during play and instrumental activities. Our dataset, consisting of 434 observations of children’s toys and tools from 54 hunter-gatherer societies, reveals several salient trends: Most objects in our dataset are used in play. Children readily manufacture their own toys, such as dolls and shelters. Most of the objects that children interact with are constructed from multiple materials. Most of the objects in our dataset are full-sized or miniature versions of adult tools, reflecting learning for adult roles. Children also engage with objects related to child culture, primarily during play. Taken together, our findings show that hunter-gatherer children grow up playing, making, and learning with objects.


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