EXPLANATION: A LEARNING TOOL BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN

Allen provides insights into conversations that occur as pairs of any combination (two adults, a parent and a child, a grandparent and a child, for example) explore an exhibit. Other researchers have focused on how parents and children interact at a museum, with an emphasis on the role of explanation in enhancing the experience for the child. For example, developmental psychologists Maureen Callanan and Jennifer Jipson noted that parents often refer to prior experiences as a way to make an exhibit more relevant and meaningful. Overall, when parents mediate the exhibit for their children, the experience tends to be more beneficial.16

A study by Kevin Crowley and his colleagues further illustrates the influence of parents on children in informal science learning environments. The researchers observed 91 families with children ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old as they explored an exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, California. The exhibit focused on the zoetrope, a device that produces an illusion of action from a series of static images. The investigators found that children who engaged with their parents during their visit viewed the exhibit with more perceptive eyes. Their exploration was “longer, broader, and more focused on relevant comparisons” than that of children exploring the exhibit on their own. These results point to the key role that parents play in helping children select and identify appropriate details.17

In addition, parents who have a background in science may be comfortable enough to use an exhibit as a starting point for sharing their knowledge. Below is an example of how a father, knowledgeable about simple machines, uses a Pulley Table to demonstrate for his son how this device works:

Well, mostly I was explaining to my son what it was doing. Showing that—for instance, there was one pulley that powered and the difference in putting the string on the smaller wheel as compared to the larger wheel, what it does to the other wheels…. Another boy walked up as well, and so I showed them the faster you turn it, the faster it plays, depending on the size of the pulley you use will also determine the power.18

Sometimes, however, parents may become too involved in the museum experience, which may in some ways limit children’s access to cognitively complex tasks, as documented by researchers Mary Gleason and Leona Schauble. When 20 highly educated parents and their children (working in pairs) were asked to design



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