Little Scientists

When a baby looks at you with a look of astonishment, what are they thinking? When they drop their fork on the floor what are they doing? We now know the answer is experimenting!
Babies from the moment they are born are experimenting. Their experiments taken on the same logical format as any experiments scientists would perform i.e. ask a question, research, construct a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyse & draw conclusions and finally reconstruct or consolidate their hypothesis.

The difference is that our baby’s questions are far simpler then our molecular biologists. They enter this world with little knowledge of how the world or humans work. In fact their understanding of the world is similar to your understanding of Gliese 667Cc (a NASA identified potential habitable planet 22 light years away). But what they do have is a set of genes that provides them with the tools and desire to learn and a group of guardians to teach them.

They observe their guardians interacting with the world and develop a set of rules based on what they see. They then test and retest these rules through little experiments, analysing the results as they go. This builds up a bank of data which either agrees or disagrees with their set of rules. If it agrees with the baby’s idea of what should happen they generally look happy with themselves (like we would too) but if it goes against their hypothesis then they look baffled (again like we would). [Interestingly this is why magic shows are so popular with both adults and children because it defiences what we believe to be true.] Based on the data they modify their set of rules. Following which they ask themselves another question and then the process starts again.

Let’s run through a basic example. A baby moves its hands over its eyes and the world disappears! Where did it go? The hypothesis is that the world has disappeared, the question is how did that happen? The baby now tries to answer this question with a series of test. Test one – shake my head and maybe the world will come back. Test two – wiggle my legs and maybe the world will come back. Test three – move my hands. Test four – open and close my eyes and maybe the world will come back. With each test there is an outcome. The baby records each outcome and repeats each test multiple times to ensure the outcomes are reproducible. The baby then analyses its findings and draws its conclusion, the world disappeared behind my hands and eyelids. It then revisits and modifies original hypothesis to the world can-not disappear on its own but my hands and eyes can make it disappear. Cue, the next few days of peek a boo!

This methodology ensures their understanding of the world is constantly evolving and it is through experimentation (we call it creating havoc!) that babies and children learn how the world works. They are inquisitive enough to experiment, accept the outcomes and ultimately are open to changing their mind set. Something we adults could learn from.