At Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and New York Hall of Science we have been engaged in a research initiative to determine how to best support family engagement in making as a learning process. Through this work, the research-practice teams at each museum have empirically identified the kinds of learning that we value with respect to making. Generally, we we call this work, our Principles of Practice. At Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, this has developed into a framework, the Learning Practices of Making, as well as an ongoing approach to reflective practice, while at New York Hall of Science, this work has helped to essentialize and describe the institution's overall approach to learning, Design, Make, Play. 

Learning Practices of Making, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

These Learning Practices of Making serve as observable behaviors of learners in MAKESHOP, the museum’s makerspace.  The practices were developed collaboratively between the educators of MAKESHOP and researchers at the museum.

The Children's Museum uses a practice-based approach to identify and describe learning, rather than an outcomes-based approach. In this way, our research-practice team focuses on the behaviors—the actions and interactions of learners as they engage in making as a learning process, rather than on the end results of their experience. Viewing learning in this way, as educators facilitate visitor experiences in MAKESHOP, they are constantly evaluating, re-thinking and tweaking the learning experiences they design to better support children and families’ engagement and growth in one or more of these practices. 

Design, Make, Play, New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science has developed a set of guiding principles that are rooted in the museum’s learning philosophy, Design-Make-Play. Design emphasizes intentionality in problem-solving and helps people see the possibilities in the world; Make highlights hands-on experience with materials, tools and processes and nurtures the development of skills and confidence; and Play promotes intrinsic motivation. When combined, these strategies support open-ended exploration, imaginative learning, deep engagement, and delight — ingredients that inspire passionate learners and critical thinkers. The core tenets that are believed to make Design-Make-Play transformative for STEM learning for young children and their families in our community are the following


Learning Practices of Making

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

Inquire - Learners’ openness and curious approach to the possibilities of the context through exploration and questioning of its material properties.

Tinker - Learners’ purposeful play, testing, risk taking and evaluation of the properties of materials, tools and processes

Seek & Share Resources - Learners’ identification, pursuit/recruitment and sharing of expertise with others; includes collaboration and recognition of one’s unfamiliarity and desire to learn.

Hack & Repurpose - Learners’ harnessing and salvaging materials, tools and processes to modify, enhance or create a new product or process; includes disassociating object property from familiar use.

Express Intention - Learners’ discovery, evolution and refinement of personal identity and interest areas through determination of short and long term goals; includes learners’ responsive choice, negotiation and pursuit of goals alone and with others.

Develop Fluency - Learners’ development of comfort and competence with diverse tools, materials and processes; developing craft.

Simplify to Complexify - Learners’ demonstration of understanding of materials and processes by connecting and combining component elements to make new meaning.

Principles of Design, Make, Play

New York Hall of Science

Collaboration and Co-learning - By highlighting the opportunity for math and science learning in children’s everyday experiences, and elaborating on the science that families are already doing together (cooking in the kitchen, splashing in the bathtub, and collecting rocks and leaves on a walk in the park), we reveal meaningful ways for adults to participate in making, provide tools for parents that help them see and appreciate their children’s play as an invaluable part of the learning ecology, and honor and support parents and grandparents’ roles as playmates and first teachers. 

Materials Literacy - When children are able to find new uses for everyday materials, they develop materials literacy, a potent skill that enables children to see possibilities in the world around them. Privileging the use of everyday materials serves to demystify STEM processes and allows families to see that science learning can take place in their own homes and communities.

Building Science Process Skills and Engaging in Mathematical Thinking - Making experiences afford ways to understand the world through asking questions, probing for answers, investigating, and communicating. By providing natural phenomena to explore and the tools to investigate them, Making encourages the development of skills including identification and creation of patterns, measurement, counting, sorting, and classification.

Purposeful Play - We make sense of our world through self-directed, rich sensory experiences. Play develops children’s content knowledge and provides children the opportunity to develop social skills, competences and disposition to learn.

Divergent Solutions - We nurture children’s natural creativity through experiences that are open-ended, and invite learners to define their own paths, rooted in what excites them and makes them curious. Making inspires learners to approach materials and processes in new and innovative ways, reflective of their own creative thinking. It gives kids ownership over what they create, and encourages them to be natural problem solvers.

Documentation and Sharing - For young learners, who build confidence and agency through self-expression, sharing is at the heart of their healthy socio-emotional development. Opportunities for story-telling, muraling, sketching, paired with physical displays and digital documentation of children’s work and play acknowledge and support children’s desire to communicate and represent their knowledge of the world, and inspire further investigation and exploration. For parents, documentation provides a valuable lens on learning.