Every parent has experienced the phenomenon of their baby dropping food from the high chair or launching toys out of the bathtub. What can be more frustrating than watching your little cherub gleefully toss overboard those expensive fresh blueberries or that labour-intensive homemade lasagne? But take heart, your child is likely taking part in some of her first real science experiments…

photo credit: greekwife.blogspot.co.uk

What it looks like: Baby drops items (food, toys, etc.) from a height. When an adult responds by picking it up, handing it back to her and saying something (positive or negative) baby repeats the behaviour. Baby usually enjoys the exchange, regardless of whether the adult does or not.

Mistaken for: Wanting to annoy her parents by dropping lovingly-made food on the dirty floor.

What baby is learning: This is a big learning experience…what is baby not learning! First off, she’s learning a lot of physics. She’s learning about the effect of gravity on the different objects she drops. She’s learning where objects will land when she drops them and she’s testing out her hypothesis that these laws are constant and will always produce the same result. But there’s only one way to test this result: through repetition. If an adult chooses to join in her experiment, she will quickly put them to use as her lab assistant. Be expected to facilitate the repetition. She will not, however, be aware of how this experimentation may or may not fit into the day’s routine and will not understand your possible frustration.
If the adult adds in the element of a strong reaction (positive or negative) to baby’s behaviour then she will also experiment with this. She may enjoy a stern word and the sense of power it gives her just as much as a grin and vigorous clapping so don’t be surprised if any reaction on your part only eggs her on.

How to support: You can choose to play this one of two ways, depending on whether or not you want to encourage experimentation at this particular time.
To encourage: you can become her lab assistant by picking things up things she has dropped and passing them back to her. As always, you can narrate what is happening. Try to stick to specific descriptions of what is happening (‘The mushroom has landed next to the pepper.’) as opposed to general value-based statements (‘Well done!’).
To discourage: you can let her go solo. Either narrate what has happened in a calm voice (‘The mushroom is on the floor’) or don’t say anything at all. But most importantly, don’t pick it up as she may just want to study where it has landed. Natural consequences work to your advantage here as she will eventually run out of items to drop (or you can remove them).