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Increasing parent-child interaction through play at the Science Centre Singapore

Alida Goh and Lah Jia Min, Science Educators at KidsSTOP™, share how their Little Footprints initiative is enhancing interactions between parents and children within a museum environment, creating opportunities for play and discovery at the Science Centre Singapore.

The Science Centre Singapore is known for its efforts to educate the public on all things technological and scientific, including potential young scientists. With over a million visitors a year, it was the perfect host for KidsSTOP™’s Little Footprints project.

Together, Alida and Jia Min have fourteen years of teaching experience under their belt, supporting inclusion initiatives and leading workshops tailored to children and accompanying adults. Little Footprints is an onsite adventure trail that was borne out of KidSTOP™’s continued efforts to provide engaging and hands-on activities for parent-child participation.

Introducing the aims and origins of the project, Alida and Jia Min say: “Little Footprints was rolled out in 2019, evolving into a programme tailored towards parent–child collaborative learning and thus an opportunity for them to bond.”

Through various themed activities, Little Footprints aims to ignite an interest in science among its young participants, hence its setting at KidsSTOP™, a dedicated children’s gallery within the Science Centre.

“Each ‘adventure’ comes with a Little Footprints onsite adventure trail kit,” Alida explains. “This lets parents and children explore and interact with various exhibits at the KidsSTOP™ gallery and complete missions from the adventure booklet along the way.”

The trail kits consist of a pre-visit social story and audio story, an interactive adventure booklet, and a post-visit mini game. With specially curated content and activities in place, Little Footprints makes learning enjoyable and impactful for young minds.

Learning for all

To promote inclusivity across KidsSTOP™ and the Science Centre, several ground-up initiatives were carried out by the team, including equipping educators with knowledge of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.

Using evidence-based research on understanding individual differences on how humans learn and the pedagogies required to address them, UDL aims to improve and optimise teaching and learning for all people.

Jia Min says, “Learning how to apply the UDL framework to classes and programmes in an informal learning setting has led to an increase in visitor numbers, interest and demand, particularly for classes catered to SPED [Special Education] students with diverse learning needs.”

“In 2021, we introduced curated programmes for diverse learners, guided by UDL principles,” Alida said. “We consulted and worked closely with partners from local SPED institutions to ensure they were suitable for a wider audience by reducing barriers to learning as much as possible.”

Little Footprints is one such programme. It provides flexible and age-appropriate instructional materials, giving parents an opportunity to guide their child through the content of the trail kit to complete missions and interact with the exhibits at KidsSTOP™.

Working with National Institute of Education (NIE)

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the parent–child learning bond, KidsSTOP™ conducted research efforts with NIE Child Development Studies, beginning in 2021.

In the studies, two separate groups of parent-child pairs were invited to participate in the study for children four to eight years of age. The first had parent-child pairs participating in a pre-visit interview, followed by a session of free play at KidsSTOP™ – where they could explore and play at their own pace – and a post-visit interview.

In the second group, parent–child pairs participated in a pre-visit interview, followed by a session of free play at KidsSTOP™ where the parents and children were encouraged to interact with the exhibits using Little Footprints adventure trail kits. Like the first group, the visit culminated with a post-visit interview.

The study was repeated on three separate occasions with unique parent-child pairs each time.

Results showed a remarkable 23% improvement in knowledge and attitudes towards learning among children who used the Little Footprint trail kits. The quantity and quality of parent–child communications also doubled when using the kits.

Reflecting on these results, Alida says: “The studies highlighted that quality parent–child communication is important in keeping the child engaged, as it helps develop a positive attitude towards learning from a young age.

“The important thing to note is that this learning can take place anywhere. In this case, it was within an informal learning institution and attraction for families – KidsSTOP™ – but increased communication and parental involvement is always beneficial, regardless of the place.”

Through specially curated content, the trail kits were also able to improve a child’s knowledge in a particular topic, such as outer space.

Gamification and engagement

What Little Footprints proves is that, contrary to popular belief, play and learning are not in opposition. They complement each other, with play being a vital part of child engagement and learning.

“Play-based learning is important as it engages children based on their interests,” says Jia Min. “It can reinforce what they already know, help them put theories into practice, or teach them something new.”

“We have observed that through play and games, children can have fun, develop cognitive skills and boost their self-confidence, all while engaging with new environments.”

One of the key challenges parents and guardians face when trying to teach their child is attracting and maintaining their attention. By incorporating play elements, gamification gets kids engaged and sustains active interest in learning. Whether winning points, hitting high scores or advancing to higher levels, KidsSTOP™ onsite missions motivate children to continue learning even after their visit.

Future Initiatives

So what has the success of Little Footprints taught KidsSTOP™ about encouraging learning and parent-child engagement? A great deal, according to Alida.

“Little Footprints has helped us understand the needs and interests of a diverse range of young people, all of which will be taken into consideration when we plan for new kits in the future.”

“Collecting feedback and data is important to us when it comes to ensuring sustainability for the Little Footprints programme.”

Feedback on the Little Footprints initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, but the team will take all responses on board to improve future kits. Above all, the initiative has highlighted the importance of games and adventure when it comes to learning, especially in a museum setting. The pair comment:

“If we had to give advice to museum professionals trying to implement games into their institution, it would be to get to know your target audience. Start with small changes and revise your efforts based on how your participants react. This will help you create an environment that plays to your visitors.”

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