Museum program design supports parent–child engineering talk during tinkering and reminiscing

Lauren C. Pagano*, Catherine A. Haden, David H. Uttal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This study focused on tinkering, a playful form of open-ended problem solving that is being widely adopted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as a way of encouraging children's engagement in disciplinary practices of engineering. Nevertheless, the design of exhibits and programs and the nature of children's interactions with adults can determine whether and to what extent tinkering engenders participation in engineering practices such as testing and redesign. Researchers and museum practitioners worked together using design-based research methods to develop and test tinkering programs that could best support engineering learning. Two of the programs specified what families’ engineering projects should do and provided exhibit spaces for testing and iterating the design (i.e., function-focused programs), and two programs did not. A total of 61 families with 6- to 8-year-old children (Mage = 7.07 years; 25 female) were observed during one of the programs and when reminiscing immediately after tinkering. Parent–child interaction patterns associated with understanding and remembering events—parent–child joint hands-on engagement and joint talk—and engineering design process talk were measured. All four programs were similar in terms of parent–child joint engagement. Compared with families who did not participate in function-focused programs, families who did talked more about the engineering design process during tinkering and when reminiscing. Parent–child engineering talk during tinkering mediated the association between the program design and engineering talk when reminiscing. Implications for research on children's learning and museum practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104944
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Communication
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Museums
  • Narrative
  • Parent–child relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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