Children’s Natural Research: Exploration and Thinking Techniques

When babies and young children explore the world, it resembles how scientists work. They test hypotheses and conduct experiments at a rapid pace. At the same time, they are developing valuable thinking skills. Therefore, it’s wise to encourage your child to continue exploring as they grow older.

Children’s natural exploration

Studies of babies and toddlers with cameras show that the methods they use when encountering something new are similar to how scientists work. Without having learned about hypotheses, they form ideas about what might be right and test them out. This process repeats itself, and quickly, the child gains more knowledge. For example, when they repeatedly drop things on the floor, it’s not to be difficult but to study gravity. It’s quite strange that things fall downward on their own.

Cause and effect

All the while, the child is working to find connections between an effect and a cause, which is a fundamental way of thinking that we need throughout our lives. Consider, for instance, when we experience pain in our bodies. We start looking for the cause, and when we find it, we can take actions to alleviate the discomfort. We think in the same way in many different contexts, such as when we try to repair something that’s broken, figure out why the workplace environment has deteriorated, understand why a houseplant is dying, or help our child understand mathematics.

Testing hypotheses

If we are aware of how we think best when trying to find such connections, the chances of finding good solutions increase. We don’t just let our emotions guide us and end up with something we believe in blindly. Instead, we think analytically and consider several different explanations. This is what scientists call hypotheses. We then evaluate or test these different hypotheses before drawing conclusions. If we let emotions govern us alone, the risk of reaching incorrect conclusions increases.

Researching with children is fun

Working on projects together with children in this manner can be a lot of fun. It becomes even more enjoyable when you stumble upon something in everyday life that you don’t know the answer to. What can you do together to find out? Sometimes, it might be enough to come up with some suggestions and then do a bit of online research. But there can also be situations where you need to ask an expert or conduct experiments.

How much can a Labrador eat?

When I was little, I may have gone a bit too far when I asked my mom and dad how much a Labrador can actually eat. The next day, my mom came home with a bag of sandwiches that had been left over at her job, and we placed it in front of Lena, our beloved Labrador. At first, she didn’t believe us when we said, “help yourself.” But soon, she devoured sandwich after sandwich and didn’t stop until she had eaten 20 pieces! Then she toppled over on her side and lay like that until the next day.

Learning through experimentation

I received an unexpected question when a group of us were on a cabin trip with many children. We served juice with ice cubes when a child wondered why the glasses were getting wet on the outside. Hmm, well, why is that? I let the kids come up with suggestions for explanations, which are also called hypotheses. Some thought the water was seeping through the glass. Another believed it was sneaking over the edge and dripping down the other side. Meanwhile, an adult thought it was coming from the air because the water was cold. How could we test these hypotheses?

This is how we researched it

We took a new glass of ice-cold juice and sealed the opening with plastic wrap, but it didn’t help. Water was still appearing on the outside of the glass. So, it wasn’t sneaking over the edge. Next, we put hot water in the glass. If water could seep through the glass, it should still get wet on the outside, but it didn’t. So, we were left with one hypothesis: the water was coming from the air. However, it was hard to believe because we couldn’t see any water in the air. We started brainstorming together and realized that there were similar situations where things got wet without it raining. There was a thin layer of water on the trampoline in the morning, even though it hadn’t rained. There was also dew on windows and leaves in the morning.

The explanation

Here, I felt it was time to explain what water actually is. That it’s made up of water molecules. They are tiny, but when they come together, they become liquid water. When we heat the water, the water molecules move faster, and some of them escape into the air and float on their own. Then, they become a gas in the air. We call this gas water vapor, and when we boil water, all the water turns into gas and disappears into the air. The children found this quite strange, so we put a pot with a little water on the stove. And sure enough, it soon started to bubble, and after a while, all the water was gone.

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