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Supporting the Littlest Scientists: Parents and Children Learning Together through “Young Explorers Workshops” at the Science Museum"

Interactive co-created workshops help parents support their young children's science learning.

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Written by

Name or Organization

The Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley


Berkeley, CA, USA. Our project will take place at our science museum.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • University

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Through interactive, co-created workshops, the Lawrence Hall of Science will help support parents to encourage science learning for their children and build confidence in their parenting skills.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Science learning starts at a very early age--even if it may not look like “science learning” in the traditional sense. Very young children who drop a ball to see how it bounces, or stack blocks on top of one another, are doing a kind of science by exploring the natural phenomena around them. Encouraging these explorations is crucial for laying the foundation of learning later in life. Parents need tools and supports to help understand what learning looks like at this young age, which will help them feel more prepared to to support other areas of their child’s development.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

The Hall has a long history of facilitating inquiry-based, learner-driven experiences. Since our founding in 1968, we have designed and delivered activities, resources, and experiences that currently reach more than 12 million learners worldwide. While we have a global presence, much of our most important and impactful work happens here in the Bay Area. Our public science center serves thousands of schools and families from this geographically, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse area. In recent years, we have increased our efforts to address the needs of families by creating a designated space in the museum for young learners (our Young Explorers Area, or YEA). The space features interactives that surprise and delight young learners; bright and colorful features; and simple machines that invite little learners to investigate scientific phenomena. At the same time, we have designed a series of family workshops that invite adults to learn and practice supportive language that helps to scaffold learning. With this support, we will use design-based implementation research methods to create a series of parent learning activities that help adults engage with their youngest children through play in ways that lay the groundwork for future science learning.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Parents can influence their child’s curiosity about the world--an important factor in lifelong learning--from a very early age. Yet, this can be a stressful time in the early life of a family--parents, especially first-time parents, may lack the tools and supports needed to make them feel confident about guiding that aspect of their child’s development. Parents need practical resources and a support system to give them the confidence to support their child’s and sensemaking of the natural world.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The Young Explorers Workshops (YEW) will give parents support and practical resources for supporting their child’s science learning, which will help build their confidence in facilitating other aspects of their child’s early development. Even very young children make sense of natural phenomena and experience curiosity about how the world works; in later stages of development, we think of these as markers of “science learning,” but young children automatically do this as they naturally grow and make sense of their world. These explorations do not look like what we think of as “science learning” for old children; what looks like play is actually complex sensemaking, and parent involvement and intervention can help parents effectively interact with their child and encourage them to explore. Using existing models of parent-child learning at the Hall, we will design a series of workshops that engage adults and children together in science learning. In this model, two museum educators will co-lead. One educator will facilitate the activities (such as building with blocks, rolling balls, acting with puppets, exploring air motion etc.). We will specifically use inexpensive materials in modeling so that participants can take ideas home with them. At strategic moments, the other educator will point out specific linguistic and motion supports that could be used to encourage learning. They will draw on and name specific learning research that supports the suggested actions. Additionally, we will webcast the activities so that families outside of our immediate area can participate; these recordings will be integrated into our dissemination plan. The innovation of the proposed project comes in using an embedded design-based implementation research framework. Importantly, the activities will be co-created with participating adults. We will make a wide range of learning materials and tools available, and adults will participate in the creation of the activity design based on their children’s interest and their needs for support. In turn, the design of these activities will be recorded by the educator facilitators, creating a workshop curriculum that can be implemented in other settings in the future. This is consistent with the Hall’s Learning Labs model, in which research about learning is designed and disseminated out to the wider field.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

1. Families will be the direct beneficiaries--they will participate the workshops and benefit form the learning supports. The science center field and learning research communities are secondary beneficiaries--they will benefit from the model that we create and disseminate. 2. We have extensive experience working with all of our beneficiaries: -Families and children: for nearly 50 years, the Lawrence Hall of Science has been connecting learners of all ages to the wonders of science through hands-on learning. The science center receives over 140,000 visits annually, and we have additional impacts on millions of learners worldwide through the curricula, activities, and program models that we develop and disseminate. -Science center field: our work has been shared with the science center community through the creation and sale of products (like curricula and activity kits), published research articles, and participation in professional networks.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

We believe this idea has the potential to lead to long-lasting outcomes at both the individual/family level and the organizational level. At the individual level, the model will put children on the path for lifelong learning in science by encouraging curiosity, investigation of phenomena, and feeling supported in their exploration. Parents will also have their confidence increased by getting support to interact with their children in ways that encourage their science learning. At the organizational level, we are developing the business model for Learning Labs to be both a viable revenue generator for the Hall as well as subsidize participation of disadvantaged families. Funding the YEW will help us further develop this model in three particular ways: 1) using the design process to co-create resources with families to make sure we are sharing the most useful and accessible information, 2) effectively reaching disadvantaged families, and 3) translating research into practice.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Using the support granted for this idea, we will subsidize museum attendance for low-income families by extending memberships for participants. We have long-standing relationships with community organizations who are leaders in working with disadvantaged families, who we will partner with to recruit participants. Inviting these families to participate in the design process will further facilitate empowerment.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Our goal with the YEW project is to reach 125 families (25 families in 5 workshops) to attend in-person. We will set aside at least 50% spaces for disadvantaged families, who will be recruited through partnerships with community organizations as well as outreach to families who have received financial assistance to participate in our other programs. With this funding and the development of videos and/or web-cast workshops, we will have the potential to reach many more families--particularly those who may have limited access to visit the science center (which has limited accessibility via public transportation, especially on the weekend). We have a website and robust social media presence--our website receives hundreds of thousands of hits annually, and our email newsletter reaches more than 30,000 subscribers. We will prominently feature digital products from the [project name] on our website, and publicize them widely through our existing channels. Additionally, we will work with our existing partners (such as the UC Berkeley Early Childhood Education program) and new partners (like UC Berkeley family student housing, daycare centers, and community organizations) to share the resources with even more families.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Currently, our Family Learning Workshops are limited to 15-20 families at a time; this is primarily driven by the size of our facilities (we can only accommodate so many families in one of our learning spaces), but is also largely due to the intensive one-on-one interaction that occurs between adults, their children, and the facilitator(s). This capacity does not nearly meet the demand for the Workshops--each Workshop we have offered has been completely full, sometimes with a significant waitlist, and sign-ups often occur very quickly. Additionally, our market research has revealed very few learning experiences specifically tailored to young children in our region of the Bay Area, and no existing science learning activities or settings for very young children. Hence, there is a market space as well as a demand for such resources.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We feel strongly that this idea is feasible. As described, we have piloted family learning workshops; evaluation results revealed that these workshops have been both highly engaging as well as met the learning outcome goals of the workshops. Additionally, we are undergoing a Hall-wide process to build out the Learning Labs including adding exhibit and program elements that will engage early learners, creating a natural location in which the YEW program can take place. Finally, we have undergone an initial review of learning research to identify potential learning supports that we can use in the design of the workshops. The YEW program will also enable us to ask and answer our own research questions--for example, what do we know about how parents support early childhood development with regards to curiosity and making sense of the natural world?

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Our idea comes from several places--the market drive for early childhood learning supports and family learning workshops, the evolving Learning Labs model, and our own interests in co-creation of research products by participants. Several of our staff who will be involved in the project have decades of experience specializing in facilitating and the practice of early childhood learning, and others have particular expertise in learning research on early childhood.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We have expert program staff who design and facilitate learning experiences for young children and families every day, as well as research staff whose work has focused on early learning. Our affiliation with UC Berkeley gives us access to libraries and research labs developing cutting-edge understandings of how young children learn; many of those researchers use the Hall as a field study site. Our partnerships with relevant organizations (e.g. the UC Berkeley Early Childhood Education Program).

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • No

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information


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