Want to play God with your kid, or at least AP Science teacher? Try these three simple, safe experiments adapted from Shaun Gallagher’s Experimenting With Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects
You Can Perform on Your Kid. This terrifying-sounding read teaches you how to recreate 50 landmark scientific studies on your kid — starting the day after its born through toddlerhood — involving cognitive, motor, social and behavioral development, all 100% safe, and using household objects as materials. You’re guaranteed to learn more about how your kid learns, and have guilty amounts of fun. The author’s favorite party tricks can be found below:
“En Garde” (Ages 0 to 3 Months)
Place your awake, contented baby on her back on a flat surface. Gently turn her head to the right. She’s likely to stretch out her right arm and curl up her left arm. This asymmetrical tonic neck reflex — better known as the “fencing reflex” — is often present at birth. Unlike reflexes such as rooting, which helps a baby nurse, the imaginary foil-thrusting doesn’t have any obvious purpose; many researchers think it’s just a weird side effect of a still-developing nervous system. Either way, it disappears a few months after birth, so mess with it while you can!
“The In-Plain-Sight Switcheroo” (Ages 6 to 24 Months)
Pull an April Fool’s by showing baby two small containers, A and B. Place a toy into A and let him retrieve it. Do this several times, then place the toy into B. Babies over a year old will reach into B, but younger babies tend to reach into A as they fall victim to “the perseverative error”, aka the “A not B” error. Researchers first documented the tendency in the 1950s; some believe the repetition leads babies to reach into A even after seeing B receive the toy, but recent thinking credits more complex cognitive factors (maybe your kid’s just not materialistic?). Whatever the case, by his first birthday, he’ll catch on to your unsubtle sleight-of-hand, and you’ll be forced to switch to the “got your nose” trick.
“Helping the Helper” (Ages 18 to 24 Months)
Have two adult friends each offer your toddler a toy. The first should then “accidentally” drop it out of reach. The second should change her mind and keep the toy to herself. Next, give your toddler a toy and prompt him to share with one of the two grown-ups. Even though neither actually gifted him, your toddler’s more likely to share with the person who was willing but unable, rather than the person who was able but unwilling. Boom! Your kid can now differentiate between intentions and outcomes, a huge cognitive achievement. Reward him with a high five — and then share your toy with him.
Shaun Gallagher is the author of Experimenting With Babies and the forthcoming Correlated: Surprising Connections Between Seemingly Unrelated Things.