Parents as Scientists: The Living Laboratory Project

If you’ve visited Science Playground on a recent Sunday morning, perhaps you are one of 185 visitors who have interacted with research scientists in OMSI’s Living Laboratory! A new partnership with Lewis and Clark College funded through a National Science Foundation grant is bringing cognitive development front and central in the museum.

OMSI first hosted a study on impulse control in children ages two to six back in January. Lead by Dr. Janet Davidson, the lab’s researchers looked at a child’s ability to change from one set of rules to another, or to stick with one activity and ignore distractions. Impulse control is governed by a part of the brain—the frontal lobe—that isn’t fully developed until early adulthood. So Dr Davidson wondered, how very young children are able to control their behavior? How will children of different ages perform? Can performance on one task predict performance on another task?

Dr. Davidson finished her study in March, and OMSI welcomed another Lewis and Clark faculty member to the Science Playground. Dr. Jennifer LaBounty is currently investigating emotional processing in children ages 2-5. Dr. LaBounty is interested in how children identify emotions of others. Can young children understand that other people may feel differently than they do? That people can have mixed emotions? That people can even hide their emotions?

Although Dr Davidson and Dr LaBounty are looking at large populations of children to uncover answers to their questions, we encourage parents to think about their own child’s development of impulse control or emotional processing by closely examining their play.

Try this. Put on some music and play a game of Freeze with your child, with each of you standing very still as soon as the music stops. How long can you be a statue? Take turns telling each other ahead of time how to pose when the music stops. What do you notice? Are there times of day or even different environments when your child more easily inhibits their impulses?

Try another. Choose a favorite story to read with your child, and discuss the feelings of different characters as you go along. Ask your child if they’ve ever felt the same way as the character does. Can they remember a time when they were happy, sad, or angry? What happened to make them feel that way?

Living Laboratory research has been taking place in Science Playground’s Discovery Lab weekly, but you can find the most up-to-date information on the Science Playground calendar. You haven’t missed out! There will be several more studies taking place over the summer. Thank you to everyone who has participated, and we hope to see you soon!

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