Exploring the Foundations of Science Interest Development in Early Childhood
There is growing evidence that children develop science-related interests in early childhood, before they enter school, and that these interests may have long-term implications for science participation and achievement. Although researchers have made headway in describing interest development in the preschool years, little is currently known about the proximal processes influencing early childhood interests and how these relate to other more distal factors, such as parent beliefs and attitudes. To address this gap, I conducted a two-phase, mixed-method study, involving an initial cross-sectional survey of Head Start parents and caregivers, followed by an in-depth, qualitative investigation of seven Head Start mothers and their four-year-old daughters. The goal of the study was to systematically document the ongoing proximal processes potentially driving young children’s developing science-related interests, as well as the contextual factors shaping these processes. Over the course of two to three months, mothers in phase 2 were interviewed twice and videotaped interacting with their daughters in four different science-rich contexts, inside and outside the home. Analysis of data from both phases was used to develop a revised co-regulation model of early childhood science-related interest development. Building on prior work, the revised model explicates the proximal processes during parent-child interactions that likely drive interest development, draws attention to important distal and contextual factors, and posits four critical feedback loops previously implicit in other theories. The model outlines important hypotheses for future research and suggests promising strategies for Head Start and low-income families to support their young children’s developing science-related interests.