Little Toys, Supersize Mistakes

Toddlers sometimes treat small objects, such as toy cars or dollhouse chairs, as if they're much larger.

Dollhouses are for dolls. Everyone knows that. Everyone except some babies, that is.

In a recent study, toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months tried to climb into toy cars, play on tiny indoor slides, and fit into dollhouse chairs. Apparently, kids’ brains take a while to figure out how big things are, say researchers from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

In this videotaped scene, a 21-month-old child tries in vain to scoot down a miniature slide.


The study involved 29 girls and 25 boys. Each kid played in a room with an indoor slide, a child-sized chair, and a toy car that was big enough to sit in. Next, the kids were given miniature versions of the same objects.

Almost half of them treated the little objects as if they were big. One girl even tried to fit her foot inside a toy car. When she couldn’t get inside, she took off her shoe and tried again. Overall, there were 40 such mistakes.

Little kids do understand some things about size. When given a choice between a large car and a tiny one, for instance, eight toddlers always chose to drive the big one.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what to make of such quirks of behavior. In young children, the parts of the brain that control seeing might not be completely connected to the parts of the brain that control doing. It’s also possible that certain reasoning skills aren’t yet fully developed in kids that make size mistakes.

Luckily, size is something most of us figure out after a while. Otherwise, the world would look pretty silly with everyone trying to drive around in toy cars.—E. Sohn

Going Deeper:

Bower, Bruce. 2004. Toddlers’ supersize mistakes: At times, children play with the impossible. Science News 165(May 14):308-309. Available at .

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