Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Parents play an important role guiding children’s learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in informal educational contexts. In this project, we considered the ways in which parents use autonomy supportive or controlling language to encourage or discourage children's independence in problem solving, as well as their feedback to children’s ideas and behaviors. We looked at the association between autonomy support and children’s behavioral, STEM, story, and emotional engagement during an at-home tinkering and storytelling activity. Parents and their 4- to 10- year old children were observed at home via Zoom. We coded parents’ and children’s behaviors using a time-sampling approach. Through a time-series analysis using Hierarchical Linear Models, we examined if parents’ behaviors in one (1-minute) interval was associated to children’s engagement in the activity in the next interval. We found that the more autonomy support parents offered in one minute of the activity, the more children talked about STEM concepts in the next minute. In addition, we found that these associations were bi-directional, such that children’s STEM engagement was a predictor of parents’ subsequent autonomy support. Controlling language had no associations to children’s engagement and parental feedback had a bi-directional association to children’s affective reactions. Finally, we found that prompting families to plan prior to the tinkering led parents to be more autonomy supportive over time compared to parents who were not prompted to plan.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.