The impact of take-home family oriented science activities on primary school students' science learning: the SAKs project

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses - 2009 Archive

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Dianne Robin Webster

PhD thesis, conferred 2009

The development of systematic methods of studying natural phenomena has led to a body of scientific knowledge that underlies our technological society. As scientific knowledge expands science literacy for all citizens is becoming increasingly important both in everyday situations, and to ensure appropriate allocation of resources to scientific research and development. Like scientists, young children are eager to learn about the world and readily engage in informal science-related experiences. This study addresses the value and viability of children and their parents using science activities at home.

A social constructivist orientation underpinned this exploration of how parental involvement can positively influence children's science learning in their home environment. Families of fifty-five Year 1, forty-five Year 3 and thirteen Year 5 primary school children participated in the Science Activity Kits (SAKs) project. Parents were asked to help their children complete a total of twenty-six pre-packaged science activities that were distributed between a series of five kits and sent home from school. Each activity included a brief explanation of the underlying science. Questionnaires and written comments from children and parents were used to monitor ways they used the kits.

The youngest children had most assistance from parents and were more likely to complete all activities. Many of the Year 3 and most Year 5 children worked independently even when parents were available. When there was little evidence of parental input, children's logbook entries were more likely to indicate that the child had difficulty with instructions or interpreting investigation results. Year 3 boys were less likely to complete all kits than Year 3 girls and all Year 1 children. Interactions between children's approaches to the task, literacy skills, kit contents and the nature of parent support all appeared to influence kit completion.

Families reported that despite issues with available time they enjoyed the SAKs' experience and that their children were learning about science. Not only was parents' participation in science learning highest with the youngest children but also older children were more likely to lose interest in learning science when there was little support.

Science education is important and parental involvement enhances science learning of young children. The study demonstrates that science must be included in early childhood education and that parents should be involved wherever possible.

Supervisor: Professor Robyn Ewing