Across the life span, from infancy to late adulthood, individuals learn about the natural world and develop important skills for science learning. Over time, their needs and interests change, affecting what kinds of science activities they choose to pursue. The preferences of individuals are partially influenced by the time period when they were born and the impact of world events on their overall life experience.
Because one of the core values of the informal science education community is to provide science learning experiences throughout the life span, it is important for educators and program designers to consider the audiences they are serving. In particular, programs for school-age children and youth (including after school) are a significant, widespread, and growing phenomenon in which an increasing emphasis is placed on science. Clearly, the needs of children in out-of-school-time programs are very different from those of adults. Keeping these needs in mind and planning accordingly will lead to richer learning experiences.
To apply the ideas presented in this chapter to informal settings, consider the following:
Develop an understanding of your audience before developing a program. Ask the following questions in your front-end or needs assessment:
What is the background of members of your target audience?
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
What is their interest, and what motivates them?
What learning goals are you trying to accomplish? What do your audiences already know and not know? What do they want to know? How do they want to explore and discover? What would be the best way to meet those goals?