Through play, children are natural scientists, but few adults carry that playful curiosity and investigation into adulthood. This is pretty well documented. The scientist Carl Sagan said, "Every kid starts out a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact."
I've long had a vague feeling that a connection exists between my seemingly disparate work on nature play, environmental education, science and engineering. My struggle has been to make a cohesive theory from them. I had a moment of clarity as I stumbled into the idea that "messing about in the outdoors" is in essence a foundation for motivating interest and skill in engineering design and science inquiry. I realized that childhood play involves self-made, intrinsically motivated activities that sow the seeds for science inquiry.