Remember when you graduated high school and you thought you knew everything? Then you started college and you realized you had a lot left to learn. It’s the curse of the well-educated to recognize that they can only fathom all the things they don’t yet know.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it is certainly not the researcher’s friend. Some of a researcher’s best practices are hidden in those days long before high school graduation, in the most unlikely places. Textbooks may be the professor’s choice, but when you are trying to understand a new concept, rather than merely learn it, sometimes you need to approach a new topic with child-like innocence, and perhaps just a pinch of the child’s method.
13 Ways Your Kid is a Better Researcher than You
- No Preconceived notions– literally NO preconceived notions. Researchers sometimes get trapped in their findings and need to find their way back to basics. Children always need to start with the basics, taking no facts or figures for granted.
- No bias– children are still developing opinions and preferences, so they must come to terms with the possibility that they are wrong when an argument ends against their favor. Unwavering bias can prevent true research results from being published, or even discovered. It’s a bad idea to start a thesis with the assumption that your conclusion is already correct. Be open to the possibility of revealing something new, even to yourself.
- Constant Experimentation– research doesn’t usually mean book-work for kids (reading is still a struggle). When kids learn, they have to get their hands dirty, often literally, and that means conducting independent experiments before drawing conclusions. If you think about it, each person has at some point needed to prove gravity to him/herself.
- Their Work is Their Play– what would you study if you didn’t have a board to impress? How does that compare to the topic of your latest paper? Play education is undoubtedly easier when there are no desks or department meetings, but trying to enjoy your work will yield better results.
- Collaborating– sharing is a playroom mandate, but for academics, it can be a battle. For kids, learning is more fun with a friend. For researchers, having an engaged audience is essential. Compare a group of kids trying to prove their theory that some things float in water to 30 drafts of a Google doc, or the burden of responding to an email thread with half your colleagues. No wonder it’s harder to enjoy the research journey.
- Mandatory On-Going Education– they may not have earned a Ph.D., but five-year-olds know they have a lot of education ahead. Unlike no-showing to a conference or meeting, they have to go to preschool tomorrow. Continued education is not an option for children, as it is for many fields after graduation.
- Throwing Things– maybe not the best way to express frustration, but the practice of throwing away the points that are crowding your work is a good practice, often forgotten in an author’s rush to prove everything she/he knows. Discerning what is actually important to your thesis is valuable in writing a good research paper. Toddlers don’t keep what they don’t like; do you like every part of your research paper, or does it need editing?
- Sleeping– academics are notorious for late nights and early mornings. An impressive habit, that takes a toll sooner or later. Our littlest researchers need sleep; they refresh themselves so they can start, not only the day, but sometimes the afternoon fresh with a new perspective. Maybe napping is a lofty goal, but take the time to absorb the finding of your research. Not all waking hours are there to prove you can do more with your waking hours.
- Creativity– happy kids haven’t worked all the creativity out of themselves. Their imagination is a tool in their mental development. Creativity in adults will yield fresher topics and more original ideas. Creativity is a researchers oft-hidden talent.
- “I Want to Do it Myself”– this statement is a child’s way of asserting their independence and intelligence. As adult researchers, we sometimes hide behind a co-author or colleague’s shortcomings or supposedly wrong opinions. If you would teach your kids not to play the blame game, don’t do it yourself. Believe in your own competency first and deal with conflicting personalities later.
- Short Term Memories – a toddler doesn’t remember the mistakes she made for more than a few minutes. They don’t let past problems weigh down their pursuits. With a longer memory comes the ability to learn from error, but also the discouragement of having failed. Having the confidence to pursue your goals is a gift, easily tarnished by the criticism of one bad review.
- Eager to Do Things– counting down to quitting time is a drag and probably not worth your time. Yet, this affects all working people at least occasionally. It’s easier for kids to enjoy the journey and avoid saying “I can’t wait until this is all over”.
- Less Deadline Angst– when developing anything new, deadlines can be a time-bomb. Thinking of it to-scale, children’s rewards can seem as unattainable as your goals may sometimes seem (picture that sticker after getting shots at the doctor). Remember that parents put children through trials for their own good. Deadlines are important, but so is a clear head with as little anxiety as possible.
Children need to understand the world around them before they can go forward. It’s arguable that they learn everything by research in their own way. Which practices do you use that fit with a child’s habits? #SSRN to let us know.