Exploration, Explanation, and Parent-Child Interaction in Museums

Volume 85, Issue 1, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

By Maureen A. Callanan, Cristine H. Legare, David M. Sobel, Garrett J. Jaeger, Susan Letourneau, Sam R. McHugh, Aiyana Willard et al.

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Cover of the Volume 85 Issue 1 of the scholarly journal, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

Young children learn about causality through everyday family conversations and activities. In this multi-site project, Callanan and colleagues investigated children’s developing causal thinking through family interaction at gear exhibits in three US children’s museums. The investigators documented children’s exploring, parents’ explanations, how these behaviors unfolded in time, and how they related to follow-up measures of children’s causal thinking about gears. Children’s systematic exploration predicted their causal thinking. Parents’ causal language, when well-timed with children’s actions, predicted children’s systematic exploring. The coordination between exploration and explanation differed across interaction styles between parents and children, based on who set goals for the play at the exhibit. The authors use an integration of constructivist and sociocultural approaches to development as a framework for interpreting their data, and discuss practices for supporting parent-child interaction in museums.    

About the Authors



Overview: Exploration, Explanation, and Parent-Child Interactions in Museums
David Sobel, Ph.D. (Professor, Brown University) describes how children learn from play with their families, and how museums might scaffold such playful interactions.

Timing is key for parents who want to help children learn
Children’s museums can be a challenging environment for parents who feel the urge to explain the science behind all the novel activities that dazzle youngsters. New research suggests that timing is key to supporting children’s learning in these environments. Created by University of California, Santa Cruz.

Methodological Lesson: Developing Successful Collaborations in Museum-Research Partnerships
How can researchers and museum staff join together for successful collaborations? Maureen Callanan (Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz) and Jenni Martin (Director of Strategic Initiatives, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose) discuss the benefits of partnerships, the ways they’ve encountered and persevered through obstacles, and the keys to successful researcher-museum partnerships.

Teaching Resources