Play, Play, Discover: Research at Boston Children’s Museum

Faith ObrianBoston Children’s Museum works closely with researchers from local universities to conduct studies into child development, cognition and more; and to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public in order to make a positive impact on parenting practices.  Look for future articles about these researchers’ work, their reflections and themselves.  Our first researcher is Faith, from MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab:

As you’ve browsed through magazines and perused the Internet, you may have come across articles summarizing research studies telling you about the amazing abilities of babies and young children to determine simple probabilities, infer the causes of unseen events, or make moral judgments.  Often those short pieces leave you wondering how the researchers arrived at their spectacular conclusions.  Well, if you’ve ever pondered how we can learn these astounding facts about children, speculate no longer and come experience it for yourself!

My name is Faith and I am a member of MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab, which partners with Boston Children’s Museum to conduct research. During your next Museum visit, stop by one of our PlayLab spaces near the Construction Zone, Art Studio, or PlaySpace exhibits.  Wearing red “Boston Children’s Museum Researcher” aprons, we’re easy to identify! We’d love to let you know what we’re trying to find out and invite you and your child to help by participating.

What’s it like to participate?

ResearchIf you and your child decide you would like to participate, a researcher will guide you to one of our PlayLab spaces.  You will stay with your child during the experiment so that both of you will have the experience of seeing research in action.  During the study your child will sit either in a high chair, your lap, or a kid-friendly chair, depending on your preferences and your child’s comfort.  One of our researchers will explain the process and ask you to sign a consent form giving permission for your child to take part in the research study. After that, it’s time to play!  Your child may watch a puppet show, play a game, or learn about how to operate a new toy.  Depending on the study and the age of your child, she may be asked questions about what she is seeing and learning, or she may simply sit and watch.  After the study has finished, the researcher will let you know more details about the study and what we are trying to see and discover from the experiment.

For a given research question, we study children in a particular age range.  Our researchers at the Museum can let you know the age of the children they are studying, but even if your child is not of that age, we would still love to show you our experiments!

What happens in the research process after you leave?

Through your participation you will have helped us take a step closer to our research goals.  For a given experiment, we will collect data from a certain number of children.  Once enough other interested parents/children like you have participated, we can analyze the data.  To do this, our researchers review video of what happened during the experiment (how long children looked at a certain key object, how they answered certain questions, what the children chose to pay attention to, etc.).  We can then note trends across the groups of participants to draw conclusions about some of our research questions, and submit our findings to scientific journals (see this page for publications from the lab: http://eccl.mit.edu/publications.html).

Consider this an open invitation to help us research and learn more about how your children think, what they know, and how they learn and develop.  And in advance of your participation…thank you!

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