How to be a scientist
By Miriam Klein
June 19, 2014
If you’re a baby or a toddler, here’s what it looks like to be a
You explore everything. If it fits in your mouth, you taste it – and you don’t just taste it, you feel every part of it with your tongue. If you can hold it, you shake it, bang it, drop it. Will it make a sound? What’s in it? Can you take it apart?You study cause and effect, and consequences. If you drop it, will it fall down every time? If you ever saw a floating balloon or a soap bubble, you might have reason to doubt that everything falls. You may have to drop your toy off the edge of the high chair many times, just to do a complete study.
Some of the questions you study are social in nature. What happens if I pull that baby’s hair? If I cry, will someone help me? If I say da-da-da, or ma-ma-ma, they get excited. What happens if I do it again?
I like to think of these early experiments as an intense study of empirical physics (or in the last examples, empirical social research). This experience-based study is necessary for your child to easily learn academic subjects later in life. More importantly, this early exploration can also help feel your child feel at ease in new environments and new situations throughout his or her life.
You can support your child's budding scientific curiosity in some very simple ways. The good news is that many of these ideas can actually simplify your own life by reducing the need to be your child's teacher and/or entertainment director.
- Give your child time to explore on his or her own terms. You don't need to be on call to entertain your child at every moment, and you don't need to schedule every moment of their day. You can relax and take care of your own needs, knowing your child will find fascination in their own open-ended exploration.
- Create an environment that's safe for your child to explore. If your baby is just starting to crawl or walk, take time to go through your house at your baby's level, and look for anything that is unsafe for your baby - and also everything that is unsafe from your baby's curious hands. If you've done this well, you won't have to worry about protecting your baby from your house or your house from your baby. An environment that says "play with me" is much better for your child's developing brain than an environment that says "no, don't touch'.
- Give your child toys and activities that allow your child to be curious at a deep, non-verbal level. Your child's deepest need is not to be entertained, but to understand. Babies and toddlers especially need to experience the subtleties of taste, texture, sound, weight, and momentum with their own bodies in order to understand them. Often electronic toys reduce the quality of interaction to simply pressing a button or swiping a screen, and for young children this is antithetical to their need for connection with the physical world. On the other hand, simple toys like blocks or drums give your child open-ended tools for exploration. You can make an indoor sandbox filled with cornmeal, grains or pasta for an inexpensive and safe alternative to sand. Or fill a shallow basin with water for hours of fascination. (Stay close and supervise water play for safety!)
- In our Music Together® classes, we recommend that parents participate directly rather than holding their child's hands and directing their child's movement. When you participate directly, you model what musical play looks like, and you also give your child a chance to practice mastery in his or her own way. The road to mastery may include dropping, banging, mouthing or waving a mallet or a shaker egg. Remember, they're not doing it wrong, they're using their bodies and the instruments to learn about the world.
I love working with small children. I love seeing their intense connection with the world around them, where everything is worthy of exuberant study. I hope that while you support your child's exploration, you also allow yourself to be inspired by it. We all have moments where we explore empirical physics, and often these moments give us our greatest joy. However, you may not call it physics when you do it. You might just call it – tennis. (Or golf, or dance, or yoga, or...) What's your field of study?