Alison Gopnik at the University of California, Berkeley, had been working in this area. A recent review by her has been recently published in the journal Science. The abstract of that paper is posted here as well as a TED video describing her work. A video released by the National Science Foundation is also shared in this post.
Scientific Thinking in Young Children: Theoretical Advances, Empirical Research, and Policy Implications
"Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species," says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.Alison Gopnik takes us into the fascinating minds of babies and children, and shows us how much we understand before we even realize we do." - http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html
Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke with NSF about her research on young children's early learning. Credit: National Science Foundation
Being shown how to do something has advantages, for both young children and for scientists, as well as disadvantages. Most importantly, being taught something instead of exploring it for oneself discourages exploration that can lead to new conclusions, and research indicates this is the case for young children, Gopnick said.
The true challenge to education is doing both; maintaining curiosity while instilling discipline, learning hard work while at play, and having one's eyes and ears wide open while standing on the shoulders of giants in the past.