As educators and researchers focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning, we often adopt a relatively narrow view of the STEM domains, based primarily on how these topics are defined and taught in school. The concept of play, however, invites us to broaden this perspective and explore the diverse and interdisciplinary ways that children and their families engage with STEM in their everyday lives. Over the last several years, the Head Start on Engineering (HSE) initiative, based in Portland, Oregon, USA, has been developing a family-based program to engage preschool-age children (3–5 years old) and their families from low-income communities in the engineering design process and simultaneously study how these experiences support long-term family interests related to engineering. In this chapter, we describe findings from a retrospective interview study with parents one to two years after they participated in HSE. Through qualitative analysis of the interviews, three distinct interest pathways emerged: (a) engineering focused, (b) prior interest focused, and (c) family values focused. The findings problematize traditional approaches to studying STEM-related interests and highlight the importance of understanding the complex ways families make sense of and engage with STEM through play and other informal learning experiences.
- Interest development
- Early childhood
- Family learning
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
All names used in this chapter are pseudonyms.
Ainley, M. (2019). Curiosity and interest: Emergence and divergence. Educational Psychology Review, 31(4), 789–806. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09495-z
Alexander, J. M., Johnson, K. E., & Leibham, M. E. (2015). Emerging individual interests related to science in young children. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 261–280). American Educational Research Association.
Azevedo, F. S. (2011). Lines of practice: A practice-centered theory of interest relationships. Cognition and Instruction, 29(2), 147–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/07370008.2011.556834
Azevedo, F. S. (2015). Sustaining interest-based participation in science. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 281–296). American Educational Research Association.
Bairaktarova, D., Evangelou, D., Bagiati, A., & Brophy, S. (2011). Engineering in young children’s exploratory play with tangible materials. Children, Youth and Environments, 21(2), 212–235. https://doi.org/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.21.2.0212
Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49(4), 193–224. https://doi.org/10.1159/000094368
Barron, B. (2010). Conceptualizing and tracing learning pathways over time and setting. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 109(1), 113–127.
Broderick, C. B. (1993). Understanding family process: Basics of family systems theory. Sage.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). Ecology of human development. Harvard University Press.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. Sage Publications.
Chesworth, L. (2016). A funds of knowledge approach to examining play interests: Listening to children’s and parents’ perspectives. International Journal of Early Years Education, 24(3), 294–308. https://doi.org/10.1080/09669760.2016.1188370
Corin, E. N., Jones, M. G., Andre, T., & Childers, G. M. (2018). Characteristics of lifelong science learners: An investigation of STEM hobbyists. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 8(1), 53–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/21548455.2017.1387313
Cox, M. J., & Paley, B. (1997). Families as systems. Annual Review of Psychology, 48(1), 243–267. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.48.1.243
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.
Crismond, D. P., & Adams, R. S. (2012). The informed design teaching and learning matrix. Journal of Engineering Education, 101(4), 738–797. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2012.tb01127.x
Crowley, K. D., Barron, B., Knutson, K., & Martin, C. K. (2015). Interest and the development of pathways to science. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 297–314). American Educational Research Association.
Cunningham, C. M. (2018). Engineering in elementary STEM education: Curriculum design, instruction, learning, and assessment. Teachers College Press.
Ellsworth, J., & Ames, L. J. (Eds.). (1998). Critical perspectives on project head start: Revisioning the hope and challenge. State University of New York Press.
Fleer, M. (2019). Scientific playworlds: A model of teaching science in play-based settings. Research in Science Education, 49(5), 1257–1278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-017-9653-z
Garibay, C. (2009). Latinos, leisure values and decisions: Implications for informal science learning and engagement. The Informal Learning Review, 94, 10–13.
Gaskins, S. (2008). The cultural meaning of play and learning in children’s museums. Hand to Hand, 22(4), 1–2, 8–11.
Gold, Z. S. (2017). Engineering play: Exploring associations with executive function, mathematical ability, and spatial ability in preschool (Doctoral dissertation, Purdue University). https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI10682945/
Gold, Z. S., Elicker, J., Evich, C. D., Mishra, A. A., Howe, N., & Weil, A. E. (2021). Engineering play with blocks as an informal learning context for executive function and planning. Journal of Engineering Education, jee.20421. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20421
Gomes, J., & Fleer, M. (2019). The development of a scientific motive: How preschool science and home play reciprocally contribute to science learning. Research in Science Education, 49(2), 613–634. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-017-9631-5
Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kuhl, P. K. (2001). The scientist in the crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. Harper.
Gottfried, A. E., Preston, K. S. J., Gottfried, A. W., Oliver, P. H., Delany, D. E., & Ibrahim, S. M. (2016). Pathways from parental stimulation of children’s curiosity to high school science course accomplishments and science career interest and skill. International Journal of Science Education, 38(12), 1972–1995. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2016.1220690
Hutchins, E. (2000). Cognition in the wild. MIT Press.
Institute of Medicine & National Research Council. (2012). From neurons to neighborhoods: An update: Workshop summary. National Academies Press.
Kliman, M. (2006). Math out of school: Families’ math game playing at home. School Community Journal, 16(2), 69–90.
Lai, N. K., Ang, T. F., Por, L. Y., & Liew, C. S. (2018). The impact of play on child development: A literature review. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 26(5), 625–643. https://doi.org/10.1080/1350293X.2018.1522479
Luke, J. J., Letourneau, S. M., Rivera, N. R., Brahms, L., & May, S. (2017). Play and children’s museums: A path forward or a point of tension? Curator: The Museum Journal, 60(1), 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1111/cura.12186
Marin, A., & Bang, M. (2018). “Look it, this is how you know:” Family forest walks as a context for knowledge-building about the natural world. Cognition and Instruction, 36(2), 89–118. https://doi.org/10.1080/07370008.2018.1429443
McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/stem-starts-early/
McCreedy, D., & Dierking, L. D. (2013). Cascading influences: Long-term impacts of informal STEM experiences for girls. The Franklin Institute Science Museum. https://www.fi.edu/sites/default/files/cascading-influences.pdf
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Parenting matters: Supporting parents of children ages 0–8. National Academies Press.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Building capacity for teaching engineering in K-12 education. National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25612
National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (J. Bransford, Ed.; Expanded ed). National Academy Press.
National Research Council. (2001). Eager to learn: Educating our preschoolers. National Academy Press.
National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8 (R. A. Duschl, H. A. Schweingruber, & A. W. Shouse, Eds.). National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2015). Transforming the workforce for children birth through age 8: A unifying foundation (L. Allen & B. B. Kelly, Eds.). The National Academies Press.
Pattison, S. A., Núñez, V., Smith, C., Svarovsky, G. N., Benne, M., Corrie, P., & Stewart, R. (2018). Introduction to the Head Start on Engineering pilot program: Engaging families with preschool children in the engineering design process. Institute for Learning Innovation. https://www.terc.edu/hse/
Pattison, S. A., & Ramos Montañez, S. (2021). Family values, parent roles, and life challenges: Parent reflections on the factors shaping long-term interest development for young children and their families participating in an early childhood engineering program [Manuscript in review].
Pattison, S. A., Svarovsky, G. N., Corrie, P., Benne, M., Nuñez, V., Dierking, L. D., & Verbeke, M. (2016). Conceptualizing early childhood STEM interest development as a distributed system: A preliminary framework. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD. http://www.informalscience.org/conceptualizing-early-childhood-stem-interest-development-distributed-system-preliminary-framework
Pattison, S. A., Svarovsky, G., Ramos Montañez, S., Gontan, I., Weiss, S., Núñez, V., Corrie, P., Smith, C., & Benne, M. (2020). Understanding early childhood engineering interest development as a family-level systems phenomenon: Findings from the Head Start on Engineering project. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER), 10(1), 72–89. https://doi.org/10.7771/2157-9288.1234
Pattison, S. A., Weiss, S., Ramos Montañez, S., Gontan, I., Svarovsky, G., Corrie, P. G., Benne, M., Núñez, V., & Smith, C. (2018, March). Engineering in early childhood: Describing family-level interest development systems. NARST 91st Annual International Conference, Atlanta, GA. http://informalscience.org/engineering-early-childhood-describing-family-level-interest-development-systems
Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). SAGE Publications.
Pea, R. D., & Martin, L. (2010). Values that occasion and guide mathematics in the family. In W. R. Penuel & K. O’Conner (Eds.), Research on learning as a human science (pp. 34–52). Teachers College Press.
Rendón, L. I., Nora, A., & Kanagala, V. (2014). Ventajas/assets y conocimientos/knowledge: Leveraging Latin@ strengths to foster student success. Center for Research and Policy in Education, The University of Texas at San Antonio. http://education.utsa.edu/images/uploads/COEHD-Monograph-Singles-webREADY_%282%29.pdf
Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. (2016). The power of interest for motivation and engagement. Routledge.
Renninger, K. A., Nieswandt, M., & Hidi, S. (Eds.). (2015). Interest in mathematics and science learning. American Educational Research Association.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford University Press.
Rogoff, B., Callanan, M. A., Gutiérrez, K. D., & Erickson, F. (2016). The organization of informal learning. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 356–401. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X16680994
Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Arauz, R. M., Correa-Chávez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Firsthand learning through intent participation. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 175–203. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145118
Rogoff, B., Mosier, C., Mistry, J., & Goncu, A. (1993). Guided participation in cultural activity by toddlers and caregivers. University of Chicago.
Roopnarine, J. L., & Davidson, K. L. (2015). Parent-child play across cultures: Advancing play research. American Journal of Play, 7(2), 228–252.
Sameroff, A. J. (Ed.). (2009). The transactional model of development: How children and contexts shape each other. American Psychological Association.
Stoeke, J. M. (2014). Oh no! A fox! Dial Books.
Torres, W. J., Gilberto, J. M., & Beier, M. E. (2018). Using funds of knowledge to address diversity issues in STEM. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 11(2), 335–339. https://doi.org/10.1017/iop.2018.26
Tõugu, P., Marcus, M., Haden, C. A., & Uttal, D. H. (2017). Connecting play experiences and engineering learning in a children’s museum. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 53, 10–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2017.09.001
Vandermaas-Peeler, M., Dean, C., Biehl, M. S., & Mellman, A. (2019). Parents’ beliefs about young children’s play and nature experiences in Danish and US contexts. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 19(1), 43–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2018.1507829
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M. Cole, Ed.). Harvard University Press.
Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods (6th ed.). SAGE.
Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics, 142(3), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2058
Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332052000341006
Zimmerman, H. T., & McClain, L. R. (2016). Family learning outdoors: Guided participation on a nature walk. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(6), 919–942. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21254
We are grateful to the Head Start families and staff members who participated in and supported this work. Special thanks to Cynthia Smith and Melissa Hendricks from Mt. Hood Community College Head Start for collaborating on family recruitment and providing thoughtful guidance and critique throughout the research process. This project was supported by a grant from the Spencer Foundation (SRG #201900059) and builds on work funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1906409, DRL-1515628).
Editors and Affiliations
Rights and permissions
© 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Pattison, S., Ramos Montañez, S. (2022). Diverse STEM Interest Development Pathways in Early Childhood. In: Tunnicliffe, S.D., Kennedy, T.J. (eds) Play and STEM Education in the Early Years. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99830-1_21
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-99829-5
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-99830-1
eBook Packages: EducationEducation (R0)