We Are All Born Scientists, Study Finds | Popular Science

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Toddlers learn by testing hypotheses and analyzing evidence, just like scientists are trained to do.


Young kids think and learn about their surroundings much the way that scientists think and learn in advanced experiments, a new study says. They form hypotheses, test them, analyze their findings and learn from their actions and the actions of others — all in child’s play.

A growing body of evidence about this style of learning shows yet again that early childhood education is crucial — but it also shows making preschool more academic could actually be detrimental, according to scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

Kids learn using probabilistic models, approaching the world through patterns and using those patterns to make predictions. This can lead to drastic reformulations of a worldview — just like scientific experiments can, according to Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and philosophy at Cal and lead author of the new study. For instance, she had kids play with an electronic setup that lights up and plays music, if certain pieces are arranged in a certain way. The kids will try different combinations and arrangements, learning what works and what doesn’t, and change their approaches based on that evidence.

Written By: Rebecca Boyle
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10 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think that pre-schools are really being made more academic. There may be some ridiculous marketing attempts from pre-school operators aimed at foolish parents but what happens once the parents have left is pretty much up to the kids.

    Same applies in prisons, lunatic asylums, and parliament. Pretty much everything that happens depends on the cooperation of the inmates. Coercion is always an attractive strategy, but seldom works out in practise.

  2. There are all sorts of basic play activities which can develop scientific thinking.  

    The concept of  “fair testing”, is the basis of the English “Science National Curriculum” for young children.

    It can start with experiments as simple as asking, “Does this bottle hold more or less water/dry sand, than the other container which is a different shape?”  – followed by testing the hypothesis and observing the result.   This is at the level of infant and pre-school water play, building up basic concepts such as mass, volume, proportion and measuring.

    This can progress to reading the labels on bottles to make predictions easier.

     It could even help to  make kids streetwise about deceptive packaging, and help them resist the media muddled-thinking deceptions of advertising and marketing.

  3. This reminded me a lot of Michio Kaku’s interview where he said that we are all born scientists, but our curiosity is crushed by society itself by having us learn and memorize lists of “facts.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    He also talks about this in his book Parallel Worlds

    Although I believe we are all born scientists as children, not all of us manage to continue our love of science as adults. One reason is that we hit the brick wall of mathematics.

  4. Well, I suppose my Proud Granddad story (kind of) belongs here. For context, my eldest grandson, just 2 1/2 yrs, is fascinated by the night sky, and loves looking through both my telescope and astronomy books;

    It was grandson number two’s first birthday on Tuesday and one of his uncles bought him a birthday card with a picture of a spaceship flying around a ringed planet. Grandson number one said “It’s Uranus, Uncle Andrew”. “No, it’s got rings, it’s Saturn” came the reply. My little protege took a deep breath, looked his uncle straight in the eye and, sounding for all the world like he was the adult talking to a tot, said “No, it’s blue, so it’s Uranus”.

  5. Isn’t this kind of education better than teaching your children to kneel, chant and recite from ancient books followed by posing with, or when older, actually using a gun while shouting insults to all that differ from you?  No answer necessary – rhetorical question, of course.

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