Developmental psychologists want to know all about how young children learn language, reasoning, social skills, and more, but the hard part is that children can’t tell you how they do what they do or how they learned something new. Babies can’t fill out surveys or give interviews, so psychologists have to come up with quick, harmless, and engaging ways of studying young children’s learning and behavior. Most of the experiments they design are in the form of a simple game or situation, and the children do not even realize they are being observed.
There are a lot of books that tell you how children develop. But, through this blog, I want to show you, in a way that you can re-create at home, some of the most interesting studies that researchers have designed to illuminate how children are learning. During my time as a graduate student in developmental psychology, I marveled both at the kinds of skills that young children were learning and the innovative, yet elegant ways that many researchers were testing them. Since then, I’ve thought about compiling these studies chronologically so that I could use them to learn about my own future children’s development. In talking with the parents who generously volunteered to bring their children into campus labs to participate in research, I found that many parents are interested in learning about these studies as well, but may not be familiar with them.
A few of the exercises presented are from classic studies (which you might recognize from Psych 101) but many more are from currently published research in top academic journals. Of course many studies require complex methods and equipment in order to observe a phenomenon and these cannot be replicated at home. But there are studies that describe unexpected developments that can be witnessed in an individual child, rather than across large groups. The materials that developmental psychologists use are often surprisingly simple, including unusual kitchen objects that would be unfamiliar to children (e.g., an egg cup or sieve) and everyday objects presented in unusual ways (e.g., a crayon box filled with crayons that are all the same color).
In this blog, each post will provide some background followed by a description of the materials, procedure and results of a particular study with interesting findings. Play along and see what you can observe in your own children!
Bio: I earned my PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan and have studied topics such as word learning, conceptual development, bilingualism, and science learning in museums.