A day at the museum - how much do children remember?

Museum corridors are often populated by clipboard-bearing school children
enjoying a day away from the classroom. These museum trips seem like a good
idea, but how much do children really learn from their day out? According to
Julien Gross and colleagues, young children actually remember a great deal,
especially if they are given the chance to draw as they recount their museum

Fifty-eight lucky New Zealand school children, aged approximately six years,
were taken for a day visit to the Royal Albatross Centre and Historic Fort
in Dunedin. One to two days later, the amount of information recalled by the
children depended to a large degree on how they were tested. Asked to freely
recall the visit, the children remembered a significant amount of factual
and trivial, "narrative" information, uttering an average of ten factual
clauses. Crucially, this amount of factual recall doubled when they were
allowed to draw at the same time as they recounted the day's events. By
contrast, the children performed relatively poorly when given a traditional
comprehension test in the form of 12 questions.

A second study largely replicated these findings with a second group of
children who were tested on their memory for the museum visit after seven
months. The amount of information they recalled remained substantial but was
reduced, as you'd expect after a longer delay. Also, the benefit of drawing
now only affected recall of narrative information, not facts.

Why the difference in performance between free recall and the comprehension
test? Analysis of the content of the children's free recall revealed that
they tended to remember facts that were not tapped by the traditional
comprehension test, which had of course been devised by adults. This tallies
with previous research showing that children and adults tend to focus on
different aspects of the same events.

Gross's team said the results "demonstrated that children learned and
remembered an extraordinary amount of information about a school trip to a
museum" even after a lengthy delay. The findings also showed that giving the
children the opportunity to draw, significantly increased the amount of
accurate information they recalled. This is consistent with previous,
forensically motivated research showing that drawing facilitates children's
verbal reports of their experiences.

An earlier theory for why drawing aids children's recall is that, rather
than improving their memory for an actual event, it helps them tap their
general knowledge for material that's relevant to the topic. However,
Gross's team said their new findings showed there must be more to it than
this, because drawing helped the children recall specific facts they could
only have learned at the museum. Other possible explanations include the
idea that drawing aids motivation and attention, provides memory cues, and
that adult interviewers make more encouraging noises when children draw.
This latter explanation was borne out by the current study, with
interviewers in the drawing condition making twice as many encouraging
noises like "uh huh" and "wow".

Our coverage of this research precedes the Campaign for Drawing's Big Draw
series of events running throughout October, and coincides with the
Independent on Sunday's Drawing for Britain competition.

Gross, J., Hayne, H., & Drury, T. (2009). Drawing facilitates children's
reports of factual and narrative information: implications for educational
contexts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23 (7), 953-971

Author weblink: http://www.otago.ac.nz/phonebook/dep-psycho.html