Like most parents, I dream about my kids’ futures. Will they like sports? Art? Music? Who will they love? What kind of career will they have? I want them to follow their own stars and find their own passions. But part of me hopes those passions will include science, which is a love of mine that didn’t turn into a career. 

But wait! Our kids can support scientific research RIGHT NOW! Massachusetts has something like 114 colleges, including at least nine research universities. Because many of them have labs that study children’s development, they are always looking for children to participate in research. They include:

Boston University Child Language Lab

At BU, researchers study language and cognitive development in children from infancy to school age. Both my children have visited the Child Language Lab and have had a great time! Register with them here.

Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies

At Harvard, researchers investigate early learning in children and how that changes over time. Practical application of their research includes helping children to learn better and creating better interventions for developmental disorders. We visited recently with my older daughter. She chose silly putty as her participation “prize” and hasn’t stopped playing with it since! And bonus: Harvard’s Labs offer a $5 travel reimbursement each time you visit. Sign up here.

Cooperation Lab at Boston College

One of the missions of this BC lab is to better understand how cooperative behavior develops in children, how it evolves, and how it is sustained in humans. Contact them here.

Boston College Infant and Child Cognition Lab

Also housed at BC, this lab focuses on how infants, children, and adults keep track of numbers and quantities, and how early abilities relate to mathematical achievements. They’re currently looking for participants beginning at age 4 months through age 15. Participate here.

MIT KidsBrains

This MIT lab studies how brains grow and develop from infancy to late childhood. They also investigate how brain activity relates to the way kids think about the world. Check out this TEDx talk by one of the MIT lab researchers. Then sign up here to participate.

UMass Amherst Child Study Center

Six different labs make up the Child Study Center, so they have a lot of things going on! Research topics include problem-solving in infants, the emergence of language and reasoning in toddlers, and attention and television viewing in preschoolers. To find out more, click here.

UMass Boston Baby Lab

At the Baby Lab, researchers examine how babies learn, which includes language development, short-term memory, and visual/auditory development. Sign up online here.

Research labs usually provide free parking and a small “prize” to your child for his or her participation. Some also offer a stipend or travel reimbursement, depending on the study. Lastly, appointments are often available during the day and on weekends, so both stay-at-home and working parents can bring their children into the labs. When I was home with my daughter, I found this to be a fun way to get out of the house, interact with new people, and do something different from our normal routine. Give it a try! See for yourself!

Rachel Wilson
Rachel is a native of the West Coast and didn't know that her straight hair could frizz until she made the move East! After earning a Master of Environmental Management from Yale, she moved to Boston for a job opportunity and, on her first Saturday night in the city, met the man who would become her husband. They married in 2012 and are learning more every day about how to be parents to daughters Annabel (2013) and Eleanor (2016). Rachel and her family recently relocated from Charlestown to the Metrowest suburbs and are enjoying their yard, but dislike shoveling snow from their driveway. Rachel currently works as an energy and environmental consultant, and wore Birkenstocks before they were trendy. Likes: her family, her in-laws, cooking ambitious meals and leaving the dishes for someone else, hiking, running, yoga, climbing mountains, reading books, farmers' markets and her CSA, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, the sound of her daughters' laughter, and coffee Dislikes: running out of milk, New England winters, diaper rash, wastefulness, cell phones at the dinner table