Why Children Make the Best Scientists

The intersection of science and play.

We are taught from a young age that authority in any academic realm must be allocated to adults only–or more specifically grey haired men in tweed jackets staring down their noses at us from in front of a chalkboard or behind a cluttered desk. But when we think about the fundamentals of Science, a field that in its research requires constant questioning and experimentation, who better to contribute to its innovation than the naturally curious? In his TED talk above, neuroscientist Beau Lotto tells why children make the best scientists.

Evolution’s solution to uncertainty is play… Play is the only human endeavor where uncertainty is celebrated. When you add rules to play, you have a game. And that’s what an experiment is–a game…

Armed with these two ideas that science is a way of being and experiments are play, we asked, “Can anyone become a scientist?” And who better to ask than twenty-five 8-10 year old children? Because they’re experts in play.

With this idea in mind, Lotto turned to a primary school in Devon, England, to create a program in which children would be given the opportunity to act as scientists. He was granted no funding for this idea, as “scientists said children couldn’t make a strong contribution to science, and teachers said kids couldn’t do it.” Teachers, if you can believe it, had no faith in the capabilities of young people. Lotto went through with it anyway.

His first step in the program was to have the students ask questions. The results?

Five of the questions the students came up with were questions that were the basis of science publication in the last 5-15 years. They were asking questions that were significant to expert scientists.

This gave Lotto and his colleagues the impetus to turn the group of children into full-fledged scientists, an idea that amazingly resulted in the peer-reviewed publication of 10-year old Amy O’Toole’s science paper. She joins Lotto onstage to describe the inspiring journey from early hypothesis to academic acceptance.

I strongly suggest you watch this video, if not to be inspired by the true capabilities of children (despite the misgivings of teachers, scientists, and most adults), then to rethink how good scientific thought requires our embrace of uncertainty.



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