Museum of Science, Boston

What is Living Laboratory?

Peter Blake, Ed.D. works with a family

What is 'Living Laboratory'?

Living Laboratory® aims to help growns-up understand children's development by immersing museum visitors in the process of scientific discovery. Since 2005, the Discovery Center's Living Laboratory has connected the public with child development research by collaborating with local research institutions. Families visiting the Museum are invited to participate in active research studies and talk informally with scientists about their work.

In 2013, the National Science Foundation featured Living Laboratory in its "Science Nation" series. In this video, our collaborators discuss their research, and how working with families has helped advance our understanding of how children learn: See Living Laboratory in action!

How do scientists study how children learn?

Cognitive Development is the science that studies what people know and how we come to know it. Researchers study young children to find out how knowledge is represented and organized in the mind, and how and why this changes from infancy to adulthood. Like all scientists, cognitive scientists make observations, ask questions, gather evidence and form theories through controlled experimentation.

Each study conducted in the Living Laboratory has a particular experimental method. Descriptions of the methods for individual studies conducted in the Discovery Center are available from any staff person and are also available online (see side bar at left for current research topics).

What can I expect if my child and I participate in a Living Laboratory study?

In short sessions that last between 5 and 15 minutes children may play with toys or listen to stories, and answer questions about how the toys work or what happens/will happen next in the stories. Children view the studies as fun "games", and each child receives a participation sticker after taking part in a study.

Studies take place within Museum exhibits, and caregivers are asked to remain with their child at all times while a study is in progress. You or your child can stop the session at any time, and all information collected by the researchers remains confidential.

When the study is over, researchers are happy to talk with you about their work and answer any questions that you may have.

Where can I learn more about how children develop the skills of science and engineering?

University researchers and Museum educators are available to talk with parents and other caregivers every day in the Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center also has a variety of activities that you can try on your own to discover more about how children learn- come in and ask a volunteer if you would like to try one with your child.

Check back with the Living Laboratory website in the coming months to find:

  • Information about each of the current studies that are being conducted in the Discovery Center
  • An interactive archive of all of the studies that have been completed with the help of Discovery Center visitors, including descriptions of the methods used and results of completed studies.
  • Videos, published papers and other materials that illustrate how cognitive scientists do their work.
  • Ideas for fun activities to try at home with your child.