Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Designing Innovative Guided Play Experiences to Empower Parents and Engage Preschool-Age Children in STEM Learning

Designing Innovative Guided Play Experiences to Empower Parents and Engage Preschool-Age Children in STEM Learning

Headshot of Karen Bierman
PI: Karen Bierman

NSF 1811472
Administered in: College of the Liberal Arts

Please visit the project website for more information.


Parents exert a strong influence on the development of foundational science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) skills in early childhood. This influence occurs, in large part, through playful parent-child interactions and conversations that expose children to mathematical and spatial concepts in interesting and useful ways. For example, parents of preschool children are often encouraged to use puzzles, board games, and construction activities to foster children’s spatial thinking and early math skills. However, mastery-oriented toys like these typically elicit highly structured interactions, with parents directing children to follow explicit step-by-step instructions and game rules. Although this kind of parent-directed play can build content knowledge in STEM, it does little to encourage the kind of intrinsically-motivated discovery, generative collaboration, and creative problem-solving skills that support STEM education and attainment. This research in service to practice project seeks to understand how parents can play with their preschool children in ways that build children’s STEM skills while also supporting children’s social-emotional skills. As such, this research has the potential for advancing knowledge on effective strategies for enriching informal learning opportunities in under-resourced and sparsely populated communities where access to children’s museums and other informal learning institutions is limited.

Additional Faculty:

Headshot of Lynn Liben
Lynn Liben Psychology
Headshot of Jessica Menold
Jessica Menold
Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
Headshot of Scarlett Miller
Scarlett Miller
Engineering Design and Industrial Engineering
Headshot of Meg Small
Meg Small
Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center

Research Staff:

Headshot of Jennifer Connell
Jennifer Murray Connell
Project Coordinator

Graduate Student:

Headshot of Morgan Mannweiler
Morgan Mannweiler