If you’re a baby or a toddler, here’s what it looks like to be a scientist:
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've ever seen 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.
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?