Toddlers: Made to Experiment


When you’re experimenting you have to try so many things before you choose what you want, and you may go days getting nothing but exhaustion. – Fred Astaire

The quote above encompasses, to me, what toddlers experience day to day. Their day is filled with experimenting; they experiment with materials, with language, with emotional expression, with social interactions and with rules and boundaries placed on them very nearly constantly. It drives them forward in incredible ways, and while it can be exhausting to scaffold, it can also be beautiful to watch.

We went to our favorite playground, Akron Street playground, and I was able to watch A, H and C experiment with the same piece of equipment (and each other) in three different ways.

There is a wheel on a large pretend sailboat that can be spun. It is often used to make sound with – as it can be fun to scream into it while you spin it, and hear the echo-y sounds it creates. A did this for a few minutes before lifting up her shirt. She put her belly on the wheel and tried to spin it. She laughed and looked around, noticing I was watching. “I spin this.” She went back to spinning it, feeling it on her belly. She leaned down to try to both spin it on her belly and scream into it at the same time. I wonder if it didn’t make the sound she was expecting, as she backed up, lowered her shirt, and tried again. “I made a sound with this.” A bounced back and forth, making sounds with her belly pressed again the wheel and without.


H watched A as she experimented, every now and then trying to join. Eventually, A walked away and H was ready to test out what he seemed to have been thinking about: what he can stick in and out of the small holes on the wheel.

H said, “I am trying to push this stick in there.” Then, “I am trying to get them out.” H worked on placing various items in and out of the wheel while this time, C watched.


If you just…sit and watch them for ten minutes and count how many experiments, how much thinking you see going on…it will put the most brilliant scientist to shame. – Alison Gopnik

C every now and then would touch the wheel, causing H to scream, “No! I am using this, no, I am using this right now!” C would say, “Oh, ok.” and backup. A few minutes later, she would try again. C tried touching the wheel in many different ways: with her whole hand, with just a finger, tapping the wheel, spinning the wheel…each time, H would stop her and say, “No!” Eventually, C tried other ways, including putting her hand directly on H or moving so her body was more in front of the wheel.


Eventually, H said, “I put them all in their home (the hole). You can use it now C.” H walked around to the other side of the sailboat and C moved in front of the wheel. C started to spin the wheel, screaming into it to make a sound.

H reached out with one finger and touched the wheel. C saw and laughed. H laughed back.

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s