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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

Abstract:

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.

 

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