My initial thesis idea is to do something that focuses on parents and their preschool aged kids engaging in both fun and developmentally beneficial and appropriate activities in an effort to prepare kids to succeed academically once they enter school.
I have also become interested in technology inspiring activities that take place away from technology (hands-on, in the real world). I think this would be important to incorporate since there is still debate about how much screen time young children should be exposed to, if any.
At this point I’m not sure what form this project would take, but I think it would be ideal to have something that fits into the everyday life of parents and kids. In other words, it would need to be something that is easy to use and isn’t bogged down by the theory behind the activities it inspires.
I became interested in this kind of project while I was working at my old job in developmental psychology research. I spent a lot of time in public schools in the Chicago area and was pretty discouraged by what I saw. The education that a child receives from big city public schools is often dictated by the neighborhood they live in and the income of their parents. It seemed unfair to me, a product of a small town, quality public school education, that kids in the same city could be getting such different educational experiences. I was also part of research studies that found that many simple things, such as the language parents and teachers use, both positively and negatively affect the cognitive outcomes of children. I became frustrated that these findings were stuck in the research community and not getting out there to the parents and teachers who could actually use them.
When I came to NYU I thought I wanted to focus on formal education and achievement gaps, but after reading more about the topic I have learned that achievement gaps are present even before children begin school. Also, although schools and teachers are often blamed for the failure of education in the US, what happens outside of the classroom is a major factor in preparing children for academic success. These factors have shifted my focus more toward empowering parents to affect the education of their children.
I think the challenge of this type of project is to accomplish this goal but still keep things light and playful. The emphasis on standards has already put a lot of pressure on older students and their teachers and I wouldn’t want to see this happen to preschoolers. In this environment of high-stakes tests, I also think it’s important to show parents that play is worthwhile and educational.
Many initiatives, apps, and products already exist to tackle this problem. One app that is very close to what I had imagined is the Family Play app from Sesame Street. When I found out about it last semester I thought to myself, “guess Sesame beat me to it.” So I think one major question that I need to answer is what I would be able to offer that goes beyond what these existing products already do.
I think I could benefit from working with a peer. I think that in most cases two heads are better than one. More specifically, because my background is in research and cognitive development, I might benefit from working with a peer who has more knowledge of the different kinds of platforms that could be used for this type of tool.
In the latter part of last year I became interested in exhibit design and museums as learning spaces that bridge the formal and informal. I would potentially be interested in doing a project in this realm but I don’t have a specific idea yet…