When can help from an adult guide children’s learning?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Children often seek help from adults when they are learning new concepts. We want to know more about how and when an adult’s help can facilitate children’s learning.

    In this study, we are presenting children (ages 4-6) with a series of challenges to solve as they explore two science activities. For each activity, there are challenges with different levels of difficulty. For example, children are asked to build a chain of gears that will spin a target gear. Sometimes the needed solution is simple (e.g., build a straight chain of three gears) and sometimes the solution is harder (e.g., build a chain of gears that avoids one or more obstacles). We have previously collected data to see: 1) how long it takes children to solve each problem; 2) whether and when children realize they have solved each problem; and 3) how long children play with each toy overall. In this phase of the study, researchers may provide hints to children immediately as they start each challenge, after they’ve had time to work independently, or not at all.

    We predict that children will solve the challenges quicker when they have longer to explore on their own before an adult steps in to help. In the future, we will be investigating what types of support from adults, such as hints or guiding questions, could be most helpful to children.

    This research is being conducted in Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science by psychology researchers from the Boston University Social Learning Lab.

        » Social Learning Lab at Boston University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Puzzling Pipes

    Explore the Ball Maze on the 2nd floor of the Discovery Center. Challenge your child to build a pipe that sends balls up to the bathtub or the sink, and observe your child as they experiment. Then, present your child with a more challenging activity, such as building a system that allows the balls to travel in a loop without falling out. Does your child ask for help during either of these activities? If you offer help completing one of the activities, does your child later ask for more help?

    Little Scientists

    Visit the Experiment Station with your child. Are they challenged by any particular parts of the activity? How do you know? What is the physical or verbal cue that tells you they are working hard to learn something new? If you offer help (perhaps when they are using new tools, such as scissors or a paper clip), does your child complete the experiment more quickly? After receiving help, does your child return to working independently or ask for more help?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Tower Challenge

    While playing with your child, try building with blocks or other toys you have at home. Observe as your child builds, and suggest a challenge, such as building a tower that is taller than they are. Continue suggesting challenging ways to experiment with the blocks, and offer help the first time they reach an obstacle. As you introduce further challenges, does your child pursue them on their own? Does your child ask for more help? When does your child ask for assistance?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff: