The Museum is partnering with Brown University's Causality and Mind Lab on a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project (award #1223777) to study how children develop scientific thinking skills and understand their own learning processes. Museum researcher Suzy Letourneau is investigating how to make kids’ learning through play visible and shared this project update.
Over the last few months, we conducted interviews with nearly 90 parents
and caregivers of children ages 3 to 11, asking what they think about
when watching their children play, and what they think their children
are thinking about. We also asked them to describe the specific
behaviors that they noticed in their children’s play, and what these
behaviors showed them about their children’s thought processes.
Parents reported playing many different roles during their visits. They
supervised, taught, helped, encouraged, played along (or nearby), or
just relaxed and watched their children having fun. Many parents
reflected on how their children played – what captured their interest,
where they spent a long time, and what they were trying to do. Parents
also thought about how their children have changed as they’ve grown, or
how their children have particular strengths, quirks, and learning
styles that showed up in their play.
A lot of parents noticed their children thinking while playing. Nearly
half (45%) reported seeing their children focus or concentrate on
something – looking serious, being in their own worlds, and not being
distracted by anything around them. Others noticed their kids
purposefully trying to accomplish something (23%), describing what they
were doing (33%), or using trial and error to test things they were
working on (20%). Some parents also noticed their children being
persistent and independent – not wanting help from anyone, even when
things were difficult (25%), or being determined and not wanting to
leave until they were “done” (38%).
All of these behaviors are indicators of children’s thinking; they show
that children solve problems independently, articulate their ideas, keep
their goals in mind, maintain their attention, and reflect on what they
are doing. These skills are foundations of “metacognition” – mental
processes that allow us to reflect on our own thoughts and knowledge.
Although as adults we have accumulated a lot of experience thinking
through unpredictable situations, children are still mastering these
skills, and play offers many opportunities for them to practice.
Check back for future Learning About Learning project updates, and look
for Museum researchers prototyping tools for visitors this spring.