The other day, I was sitting with one of my twin boys on the floor. He was sitting in a U-shaped pillow, and I was next to him in socks and sweatpants, just playing on the floor. All of a sudden, he abandoned the toys that we were playing with, and started stroking my foot. Then my pants. Then his pillow. Then socks, pants, pillow; socks, pants, pillow. This went on for about five minutes. I realized watching him that he was exploring the different fabric textures, trying to figure out what about them was different. Very methodically, very carefully, and in the same order. Socks, pants, pillow. Socks, pants, pillow. He’d thought through an experiment, and was carrying it out, trying to better understand the world. He was following the scientific method to a T. When he finally understood whatever it was that he was trying to understand, he looked up at me, laughed, and then got back to playing with his toys.
As it turns out, much of babies’ play time actually involves this methodical kind of experimentation. The scientific method is something that we seem to have ingrained in us from birth.
And this phenomenon does not seem to be merely the delusion of a hopeful father projecting his shattered dreams of scientific brilliance upon his children. It turns out, this is borne out by science.
“[Allison] Gopnik and her colleagues found that young children, in their play and interactions with their surroundings, learn from statistics, experiments and from the actions of others in much the same way that scientists do.”
So I wonder what that means for children who grow up and later either don’t like science, or don’t understand science (or at least think that about themselves)? At some point in their development, something turned them away from their natural way of interacting with the world, took away the natural experimentation and style of learning that connects so well to skills in professional science.