Digital World

Early Science and Engineering Learning Through Digital Media

Kira’s mom watches her play with the blocks on the dining room table. She calls out to Kira, “What happens if you lift the ramp with a block?” Kira tries and then rolls a marble down the chute, exclaiming, “It goes faster when I put a block under to make it higher!”

There is a strong connection between science learning and the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills. Early science exploration is crucial for kids, yet in formal early education settings, science and engineering concepts are often neglected. Children spend many hours outside of school and families can provide crucial supplemental science learning experiences. At a time of nationwide distance-learning, many children are also getting most of their instruction at home.  But prior research suggests that to do science with their young children, families need better access to ideas and resources—especially resources that do not require special materials and extensive time. While distance learning, apps and online resources are particularly useful. The neighborhood library is also a place for caregivers to learn about free and better, easy to use tools for enhancing science learning. Librarians have the opportunity to encourage and support families with some of these free resources by referencing them in their online environments.

Evidence from a recent study suggests that digital media, such as videos and apps, can support science learning. As part of the 2015-2020 Ready to Learn Initiative, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in partnership with Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) created The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! media resources, including videos, digital games and hands-on activities, for young children and their parents and caregivers. We at the Education Development Center (EDC), along with our research partners at SRI International (SRI), conducted a randomized control trial to evaluate the efficacy of these resources on young children’s science learning. Our diverse sample of children contained over 450 4-5 year-olds in low-income households across the US. We found that providing children with access to these resources over eight weeks had positive impacts on young children’s understanding of some specific aspects of physical science related to matter and forces. Notably, these impacts indicated that children were able to transfer learning from their digital experiences using the Cat in the Hat media to a real-world setting.  Parent reports also suggest that the access to the Cat in the Hat resources increased children’s engagement and interest in science.

We see librarians as uniquely positioned to use these findings to increase science engagement in their communities. Helping parents find appropriate science resources may be particularly important given that we know parents are less likely to feel confident in science concepts compared to other subjects, and sometimes feel that they need special materials or expert instruction for their children.  One possible avenue to promote science learning outside of the classroom and at home is to point parents to well-designed, developmentally appropriate media-based resources. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! is one such resource.

You can find the study summary and full version here:

Headshot of author of Early Science piece
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Alice Kaiser. Alice is a research assistant at the Center for Children & Technology, a center of Education Development Center, Inc. Her experience entails assisting researchers in diverse areas, from literature reviews and data entry, to site observations and parent interviews. Her interest lies primarily in dual language learners and in bridging gaps and providing supports for speakers of different languages. She is also interested in young children’s developmentally appropriate use of technology both in the classroom and at home. Alice has worked on a variety of projects at EDC. She is currently staffed on Ready To Learn, an initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education and led by PBS and CPB that targets the use of media resources to improve low-income preschool children’s school readiness.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


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