One of the fun things about living in a university town is that graduate students love to conduct experiments on our small children. The first experiment that Willow did, she was a baby sitting on my lap in a dark room in the Cognitive Studies department, wearing a teeny little headset that tracked her eye movements as she watched stuff on a computer screen--I don't know exactly what stuff, because I had a hood on my head so that I couldn't react, myself, but she seemed to enjoy it.
Willow has conducted experiments to test her memory, her ability to name familiar objects (except for the photo of a crib--she studied it for a while, then said to the grad student, "little cagey box?"), her overall vocabulary, and her ability to estimate numbers. Syd has conducted several experiments to track her slight speech impediment, as well as the same vocabulary and math experiments that Will did at her age.
If you don't live in a university town, yourself, it might seem a little weird to shuttle your kids over to campus a few times a year to have experiments run on them, but nearly everybody here does it, and the Child Scientist program is actually pretty great. The grad students that we've worked with have always been excellent with little children, really upbeat and friendly and engaged; for Willow, especially, who went through a long phase of being extremely--I don't want to say shy, because she wasn't timid, but she just did NOT want to interact with adults--whatever she was, it was terrific positive reinforcement, because these young adults playing with her were just so nice that she couldn't HELP but engage with them, and even Syd, who did go through a shy and clingy phase, loved interacting with these friendly adults who really wanted to play with their interesting little toys with her.
The experiments are also valuable for the medical information that they provide. Will's vision experiment came with a complete eye exam--I have miserable vision and insurance that doesn't cover eye exams, so I was glad to have it for her. All of Syd's speech experiments came with complete speech evaluations, which our insurance also doesn't cover, which were, again, absolutely free, and which were crucial to obtain, since she did have a speech impediment.
The best part for the kids, though? The stuff! When the girls were little, they got to pick out toys at the end of each experiment; now that they're older, they get cash. Poor Willow, who is left-handed, is ineligible for most experiments now, since they mainly call for right-handers, but Sydney has aged into some pretty awesome experiments that have a pretty awesome pay-out. A couple of months ago, I took her in for a math and vocabulary evaluation (the grad student asked Sydney to define "vacation", and Syd said, "That's where you drive a long time in the car and you get to eat fast food"), and at the end of it, Sydney was handed twenty bucks. We went straight to the toy store from there, and Sydney came home with several new toy horses.
This month, Syd went back for the second half of the experiment. First, she got to play in a "practice" MRI machine. Then, she was set up in the practice machine to rehearse the experiment several times. Finally, she was set up in a real MRI machine; the grad students alternated between telling her stories and asking her math problems, the answers to which she was to tap with her finger while staying quiet and still, while they scanned her brain. At the end of the experiment, she was handed THIRTY dollars and this:
Here's a picture of Sydney's brain:
Not only do we now have a great picture to frame for her room, and we have evidence that her brain is beautiful and perfect, but we're also starting a study on brains/geography when we get back to our regular schoolwork next week, so now we can do our labeling not on an image downloaded from Google Images, but on an image of my own kid's own brain!
Oh, and about that cash? It BURNS in Sydney's pocket, which is why we headed straight to the toy store after that first experiment. But Matt took Syd to the second experiment, and after it was over...
He took her to the gas station.
To buy candy.