Learning About Learning

In late 2012, Providence Children’s Museum expanded its work with researchers when it began a major three-year research project in collaboration with The Causality and Mind Lab at Brown University, funded by a $713,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.  Researchers at Brown are looking at the development of scientific thinking and metacognition in young children.  The Museum is examining what children, caregivers, and informal educators understand about learning through play in its exhibits and how to support children’s metacognition – the ability to notice and reflect on their own thinking – and adults’ awareness and appreciation of kids’ thinking and learning through play. 

Drawing from fields like developmental psychology, informal education and museum visitor studies, the Museum’s exhibits team looked at studies on the types of learning that naturally occur through play, when children start to become aware of their own thinking, and how the design of museum environments encourages visitors to reflect on their learning.  Last summer, the team conducted observations of play and learning in three exhibits – Play Power, ThinkSpace and Water Ways – and documented how children ages 3 to 11 interacted with exhibit materials and the people around them.  They looked for indicators of children’s learning through play, such as planning, strategizing and reflecting.  Next, they interviewed parents and caregivers about what they notice children doing in the exhibits, asking them to reflect on their children’s thinking.

Based on findings from observations and interviews, the research team has begun to develop and test new tools and activities to encourage children and adults to notice and appreciate the learning that takes place through play, and that caregivers can use to document their children’s learning.  The research team is sharing information about different “thinking behaviors” that are visible in children’s play, and encouraging caregivers to make their own observations about what they see when they watch their children play at the Museum.  They are also testing a new exhibit activity that allows children to practice scientific thinking skills, like experimenting and noticing cause and effect, and to reflect on their own learning as they play.  And before the project comes to a close in 2016, the Museum will share its findings with other informal learning institutions.

For more information on the Learning About Learning project, contact Exhibits Director Robin Meisner or visit the Museum’s blog for periodic updates.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1223777 to Brown University in partnership with Providence Children’s Museum. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.