Head Start on Engineering (HSE) is designed to be a research- and evidence-based program. The program model and activities have been developed iteratively since 2014 through a series of studies conducted in collaboration with Head Start staff and families.

To date, the team has conducted two major studies as part of the HSE initiative:

  • Interest development case studies—With funding from the National Science Foundation, the team conducted an in-depth study of 15 pilot program participants during the 2016–17 school year, including regular home visits and interviews with parents and children, videotaping of parent-child interactions with the take-home activity kits, teacher journals of classroom activities and children’s developing interests, and end-of-year reflective discussions with parents.
  • Evaluation of expanded pilot—During the 2017–18 school year, with funding from local foundations and corporations, the team conducted an expanded pilot with 28 families and seven staff at three Head Start locations. This pilot focused on more rigorously testing the impacts of HSE with a broader group of families through pre- and post-program parent and teacher surveys, post-program parent interviews, and monthly online teacher journals.

 Family exploring a Head Start on Engineering activity kit at home.

Findings from these studies are outlined below and described more deeply in the project publications.

  • Early childhood engineering interest development involves the whole family system. Through the piloting work, the team developed a new theoretical perspective on early childhood interest as a family-level systems phenomenon. The interest case studies highlighted three components of interest development that varied across families and over time: (1) parent awareness, knowledge, and values; (2) family re-engagement with engineering activities; and (3) family use of the engineering design process. Within each of these categories, the team identified important shifts that potentially signal movement to deeper and sustained levels of engineering interest, including seeing engineering everywhere, going beyond HSE to engage with other engineering-related activities and experiences, and taking on new roles as teachers or facilitators of engineering.
  • HSE fosters long-term engineering-related interests for parents, children, and staff. One month after the expanded pilot program, parent participants reported (a) higher levels of personal interest in engineering and comfort supporting their children’s engineering interests; (b) regularly engaging with the HSE activities, books, and materials with their children; and (c) engaging with other engineering-related activities as a family more frequently, such as talking about engineering, finding examples of engineering in everyday life, and using engineering skills during play. Aligned with program goals, parents were also much more likely to describe engineering as related to problem-solving in everyday contexts. All of these changes were large and statistically significant. Similar changes were found for Head Start staff members related to their roles engaging families with engineering.
  • HSE supports other child and family development goals. In both studies, teachers and families frequently reported ways that HSE supported other family and child outcomes beyond engineering. These included encouraging parents and children to spend more time together, learning new approaches to thinking and problem-solving, and providing new ideas for family activities. The program is aligned with Head Start early childhood learning outcomes, as described in the program guide.

Head Start on Engineering is funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1515628), Oregon Community Foundation, Collins Foundation, Boeing Corporation, University of Notre Dame, and Juan Young Trust. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.