Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Shumow, Lee

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations


Children's Museum of Boston; Minnesota Children's Museum; DuPage Children's Museum; Preschool children--Illinois--DuPage County; Preschool children--Massachusetts--Boston; Preschool children--Minnesota--Saint Paul; Mother and child--Illinois--DuPage County; Mother and child--Massachusetts--Boston; Mother and child--Minnesota--Saint Paul; Children's museums--Illinois--DuPage County; Children's museums--Massachusetts--Boston; Children's museums--Minnesota--Saint Paul


This study expands our understanding of family learning by looking closely at mother-child interaction with mothers and their preschool-aged children (three to five). Conversation between adults and children in museums has historically been the most common indicator of learning. Most of those studies have been conducted with parents and children six and older. However, this study demonstrates that mothers of younger children use forms of interaction besides language to support their children’s museum experience. Many of these interactions are subtle and nonverbal. Data were collected at three museums around the country, urban and suburban. Two exhibits at each museum were selected by surveying museum staff. These exhibits served as the focus of observations of mother-child dyads and follow-up interviews with the mothers. A mother focus group was convened at each museum to discuss mothers’ perceptions about the purpose of a museum in their child’s life, their role in their child’s experience and their theories about young children’s learning. Observations and interviews were coded using theoretical frameworks from the literature. Staff surveys were analyzed through a web-based survey program. Mother focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed by Atlas TI qualitative analysis software. Mothers’ interactions were primarily consistent with Elizabeth Jones’s adult roles in play. The goals of the exhibit affected the interaction. Exhibits where the task was above the child’s capability elicited scaffolding behavior from the mother. Exhibits with seating and where children could practice more individual discovery elicited “watch and learn” behavior where mother thoughtfully observed her child and thought about their development. Mothers’ interactions pertained to either the child’s cognitive or social development. Interviews revealed that mothers had sound theories about how young children learn consistent with the child development literature. Findings of this study provide new indicators of interaction that can be used by exhibit developers and evaluators. Design elements of exhibits that elicit interaction have also been identified. Further research needs to be conducted with adults, including fathers and grandparents; at other types of museums, such as science centers; and with other types of exhibits to see how interactions differ.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [115]-119).


viii, 142 pages




Northern Illinois University

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