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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
(such as computers, automobile mechanics, and construction equipment). In addition, there is diversity in the patterns of interaction of children and adults in families. Some communities value storytelling, others focus more on explanation, others focus more on intent observation of ongoing activity without as much verbal commentary (Heath, 1983; Rogoff et al., 2003). All of these issues have importance for the ways in which groups of people tend to engage with the natural and technological world and the ways in which young children master, as well as learn to identify as normal, habitual modes of interacting with one another and with science and the natural world. We return to this in greater detail in Chapter 7.
WHO LEARNS IN EVERYDAY SETTINGS
Virtually all people develop skills, interests, and knowledge relevant to science in everyday and family settings. The nature of learning varies over time as development, maturation, and the life course unfold. Particular interests and abilities arise through development that shape pursuits of learning, as well as the intellectual and social resources individuals draw on to learn science. People develop new interests and manage new tasks that arise through the life course. Being a sibling, entering the workforce, caring for one’s self, one’s children, and one’s aging parents, for example, often demand that one navigate and explore new scientific terrain. Here we briefly sketch out a life-course developmental view of science learning as it unfolds in everyday and family settings.
At birth, children begin to build the basis for science learning. By the end of the first two years of life, individuals have acquired a remarkable amount of knowledge about the physical aspects of their world (Baillargeon, 2004; Cohen and Cashon, 2006). This “knowledge” is not formal science knowledge, but rather a developing intuitive grasp of regularity in the natural world. It is derived from the child’s own experimentation with objects, rather than through planned learning by adults. In accidentally dropping something from a high chair or crib, for example, the child begins to recognize the effects of gravity. These early experiences do not always lead to accurate interpretations or understandings of the physical world (Krist, Fieberg, and Wilkening, 1993). As children acquire new or deeper knowledge about physical objects and events, some of their learning will correct false or incomplete inferences that they have made earlier.
As a child masters language and becomes more mobile, opportunities for science learning expand. Informal and unplanned discoveries of scientific phenomena (e.g., scrutinizing bugs in the backyard) are supplemented by more programmatic learning (e.g., bedtime reading by parents, family visits to museums or science centers, science-related activities in child care or preschool settings). These lead to the development of scientific concepts (Gelman and Kalish, 2006), which are enhanced by the child’s expanding