Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

Survey Finds Parents Need Help Encouraging Their Kids in Science

child with magnifying glass

Credit: National Science Teachers Association

Would you like your child to follow you into the sciences? Have you missed the chance to encourage them? You're not alone. A new survey finds that more than half (53 percent) of parents of school-aged children admit that they could use more help to support their child's interest in science. The survey also finds that the vast majority (94 percent) of science teachers wish their students' parents had more opportunities to engage in science with their children. The survey was conducted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., among a sample of 500 science teachers and 506 parents, including 406 parents of school-aged children.

While 98 percent of science teachers agree that parental involvement is important for children's interest in science, the survey shows it to be among the subjects parents are least comfortable discussing with their kids. In fact, barely half (51 percent) of parents say they are "very familiar" with what their children are learning in science and only 15 percent cited it as the subject they feel "most comfortable" discussing with them, compared to 33 percent for language arts and 28 percent for math. Approximately seven in 10 parents say they are "very familiar" with what their children are learning in language arts (71 percent) and math (69 percent).

"Science education has been identified as a national priority, but science teachers can't do the job on their own. They need the help and support from key stakeholders, especially parents," says Francis Eberle, NSTA executive director. "We know that family involvement is important, and parents need help getting involved with their kids in a subject they may not feel comfortable with themselves. We must continue to find ways to break down the walls of the classroom and encourage learning together among families."

The future of science education is a growing concern nationwide, with leaders making a concerted effort to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science achievement over the next decade. The gap is significant: Only 18 percent of American high school seniors perform at or above the proficient level in science, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress figures. International test scores show that U.S. students lag significantly behind their peers in science.

When asked what they think prevents parents from encouraging their children's interest in science, 77 percent of teachers say parents don't feel comfortable talking about science with their children. Part of the problem may stem from lack of resources and community involvement. Fifty-two percent of science teachers say parents don't have access to materials and 49 percent say they do not have community resources that encourage their children's interest in science. Parents agree, with 78 percent saying it would encourage their child's interest if they had a place in their community where they could take their children to explore science.

"For 125 years, Boehringer Ingelheim has been committed to improving the lives of patients and their families through the discovery of innovative science," says Jim Baxter, senior vice president of development at Boehringer Ingelheim. "A priority for Boehringer Ingelheim is to further science education and help extend the learning process into the homes and families of students, in hopes of building a strong pipeline of scientists for the next 125 years. Through the Boehringer Ingelheim Science Quest initiative, we hope to encourage a passion for science in children beginning at an early age."

Boehringer Ingelheim and Connecticut United for Research Excellence Inc. (CURE) recently launched Boehringer Ingelheim Science Quest, a comprehensive initiative designed to bring hands-on science education directly to Connecticut elementary schools. A centerpiece of the effort is the Boehringer Ingelheim Science Quest mobile laboratory – a high-tech science classroom on wheels – that will visit priority school districts across the state. The program also will include tools and resources to facilitate science instruction in the classroom and encourage family involvement in science together at home.

Video tutorials featuring several simple and fun experiments families can do together at home can be found at More tips for parents on how to get engaged in science with their children can be found at

Survey Methodology

The survey of teachers was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. via telephone from March 12-18, 2010, among a sample of 500 teachers in the continental United States using a telephone listing of households across the United States which have a teacher living there. The teachers qualified for participation if they taught science exclusively or taught science along with other subjects. If the sample had been randomly selected, the margin of error for the sample of 500 teachers would be +/-4.3 percent.

The parents' survey was conducted via telephone from March 11-15, 2010, using the Random Digit Dialing omnibus services of Opinion Research Corp. Completed interviews are weighted by four variables (age, sex, geographic region, and race) to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population, 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the total sample of 506 parents is ±4.3 percent (weighted sample size: 715), and the margin of error for the total unweighted sample of 406 parents of school-aged children is ±4.8 percent (weighted sample size: 525).


No entries found