Early childhood science interest development: Variation in interest patterns and parent–child interactions among low‐income families

Scott Pattison, Lynn D. Dierking
Science Education, 103(2), 362-388


Fostering interest in science is critical for broadening engagement with science topics, careers, and hobbies. Research suggests that these interests begin to form as early as preschool and have long‐term implications for participation and learning. However, scholars have only speculated on the processes that shape interest development at this age, when children’s exposure to science primarily occurs during family‐based learning experiences. Moving beyond speculation, we conducted a qualitative study with seven low‐income mothers and their four-year-old daughters from Head Start to (a) develop a descriptive understanding of science-related interest development for preschool children from traditionally underserved communities and (b) identify differences across families that might explain the variation in children’s interests.

The study was conducted over 5 months and included two in-depth interviews and four videotaped sessions in which families engaged in science-related activities. Interviews suggested that children’s science-related interests sparked by the sessions fell along a continuum, from focused interests specific to the materials provided during the sessions to broad interests extending to more general topics and activity types. We also found important variation across families related to mothers’ expression of affect, their involvement and leadership styles, and their approach to re‐engaging children when they lost interest or changed focus.