(Inside Science TV) – Children are playful by nature. Their young imaginations run wild with the simplest objects like blocks, sand and even empty boxes.

As they play they also learn and develop surprising skills. A group of preschoolers in California have become experts at technology, mastering how to use cell phones, video games and computers.

"Even the youngest children both know more and learn more than we ever would have thought possible before," said Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Researchers at UC, Berkeley wanted to find how young kids can learn so much so quickly. They found that 4 and 5 year olds can actually outsmart some college students when it comes to figuring out how traditional toys and electronic gadgets work.

"Preschoolers are better at imagining different kinds of possibilities. They're better at exploring," said Gopnik.

In tests, preschoolers discovered faster than some adults that unusual combinations could make a machine turn on. Adults tended to follow common, obvious ways to make it work, even when showed it could work differently.

"Children don't know as much, they haven't accumulated as much expertise, skill and knowledge, but that means they're more open-minded. They're more open to new, different possibilities and ways of doing things," explained Gopnik.

The flexible, fluid thinking of younger generations could help develop technology for the future.

"If you're trying to learn something that's unusual or striking or new, you might be better off as a younger learner than you are as an older learner," said Gopnik.

Researchers plan to partner children with computer scientists to design new technologies.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.