A naturalistic study of children and their parents in family learning courses in science



During the 1960s and 1970s a number of family learning projects evolved, most of which focused on pre-schoolers and their parents. The goal of some of these programs was to provide enjoyable, structured experiences in which parents and their children learned together. Recently, a number of institutions have been sponsoring enrichment science classes or learning experiences for parents and older children. The study described here is based on a project funded by the National Science Foundation (DISE No. 07872) which was attempting to show that it was possible to increase scientific literacy of two different age groups by simultaneously exposing parents and their middle school children to short courses in science. The project is an outgrowth of a study previously reported (Gennaro, Bullock, & Alden, 1980) carried out at the Minnesota Zoological Gardens. The study is based on data obtained during the first two years of the project and used various data gathering procedures such as the use of questionnaires, interviews, observations, and cognitive testing. It was found that children register for the courses primarily because of interest in the subject matter of the courses and that parents register because of their desire to nurture the child and the child's interest in the subject matter of the course. Both parents and children made significant gains in learning as measured by subject matter tests. Participants reported that the experience was both enjoyable and valuable. Children's attitudes toward their parents and the course were significantly higher if the children perceived a highly cooperative learning environment with their parents. Parents who scored in the medium or high range on the pretest had significantly more interactions with their children concerning information about course tasks than those who scored low on the pretest.