Loyola University Chicago

Children's Memory and Learning

Learning with Objects

Conversations Before, During and After a Museum Visit


With support from the Spencer Foundation, we have studied the ways that parent-child interactions can enhance children’s early learning about science and culture in a museum setting. The work took place in the Crown Family PlayLab, an early childhood science learning center at The Field Museum. The focus of the research was to study the critical role that caregivers can play in shaping children’s science-related experiences before they encounter formal science education in a classroom. At the core of this work is the idea that children and their caregivers come to a museum with prior knowledge and experiences that set the stage for their initial understanding of a novel exhibition space. Learning and understanding are further enhanced through conversational interactions that occur before, during, and after a museum visit. Given this perspective, this project explored how knowledge and experiences transfer to and from the museum. It identified the conversational and dialogic patterns used by caregivers that are most effective in fostering understanding and the retention and extension of museum-based learning. And, because objects and activities in the museum provide a springboard for many discussions, the research considered how engagement with objects – verbally, visually, and physically - influences learning.