Surprised Babies Learn About Science

Pearl Johnson’s face filled with amazement as she watched pale pink and yellow scarves flutter above a fan.

Her excitement grew as air billowed under the scarf, causing it to lift and take flight.

(ABOVE: Krisi Johnson and daughter Pearl experiment with a fan and scarf. Photos by Bianca Montes)

What the 8-month-old might not realize, though, is that she was embarking on her first lesson in aerospace engineering.

When infants see an object behave surprisingly, they do everything they can to learn more about its mysteries, said David Stanton, program director at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas, or better known as The J.

That initial surprise, he said, helps them learn.

“Babies are trying to figure out how the world works on their own,” Stanton said.

Studies show infants as young as a couple of months old are fascinated by surprises and have a natural curiosity to figure out what causes unexpected reactions. That information inspired The J’s first STEAM-focused class, held in early January. The center is hosting two sessions this summer.

While nonverbal babies might not understand the laws of physics, classroom instructor Melissa Goldberg sparks their interest with cars that seem to float in the air (as they roll over plexiglass); by using blocks to show how structures are built; and how the necessary foundation of flight is lift – like in the lesson with the fan and scarf.

Parent-child classes engage infants’ curiosity. (Photo: Bianca Montes)

Goldberg, whose background is in early childhood education, said the point of her class is to give parents tools for things they can do at home to help their children think differently.

“It’s so easy to hand a child technology or sit them in front of a television,” she said. “This makes their brains turn on.”

A study published in Science suggested that the element of surprise acts as a learning aid with babies, spurring the infants to test the unusual properties they’ve just seen in an object. This type of learning was seen at The J’s STEAM Baby class when the infants gravitated to the fan during the scarf experiment. Their small hands were eager to touch the scarves – and even the fan – in an attempt to understand what was happening.

Goldberg said her STEAM Baby class kind of answers that questions many parents have when dealing with their babies: You’re actually awake, and now what do I do with you?

That gave the handful of moms and grandmothers at the class a laugh.

Krisi Johnson, Pearl’s mother, said her daughter is “super active and loves exploring new things,” which is why she enrolled for the June classes.

“It’s giving her every opportunity to explore,” she said. “It just makes learning fun.”

Steam Baby:

When: The next sessions begin July 16.

Where: Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas, 7900 Northaven Road.

Cost: $56 members / $70 non members.

Information: Visit

Bianca R. Montes

Bianca Montes is an award-winning journalist and former Managing Editor of Park Cities People. She currently serves as a Senior Editor with D Magazine's D CEO publication. You can reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @Bianca_TBD. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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