Measuring categorisation in pre-school children: new toolkit, new insights


  • Kay Owen aInstitute of Education, Department of Education and Childhood, University of Derby, Derby, UK;
  • Christopher Barnes bCollege of Health, Psychology and Social Care; School of Psychology, University of Derby, Derby, UK.
  • Thomas Hunt b College of Health, Psychology and Social Care; School of Psychology, University of Derby, Derby, UK.
  • David Sheffield bCollege of Health, Psychology and Social Care; School of Psychology, University of Derby, Derby, UK.



Categorisation, preschool children, child development, measurement, sex differences, socio-economic status


Introduction: whilst recent years have witnessed considerable research into infant categorisation, its development during the pre-school period has garnered far less interest and innovation.

Objective: this paper documents the development of a valid and reliable new toolkit for measuring categorisation in children, designed to allow fine-grained differentiation through four short tasks.

Methods: the paper outlines how a pilot study with 55 children reduced confounding variables, ruled out several explanations for performance variations and enabled procedural refinements. It then documents a study conducted with 190 children aged 30-60 months.

Results: this more sophisticated testing mechanism challenges previously accepted developmental norms and suggests both sex and socio-economic status (and their interaction) influence categorisational abilities in pre-schoolers.

Conclusion: the results indicate that preschool children’s ability to categorise varies markedly, with implications for their capacity to access formal education.


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