Dundee Science Centre

Taking a Peek at Child’s Play

The benefits of parents sharing moments of play with their children are highlighted in new exhibits at Dundee Science Centre.

As part of a partnership with the University of St Andrews, the Peek Boxes contain holes in which children and their parents or carers are invited to peek together and observe and discuss the magical, intricate creations inside.


St Andrews Mum Alison Kay with her son Hamish (2).

Specifically, the project aims to highlight the benefits of ‘joint attention’, an area of research undertaken by Professor Malinda Carpenter and colleagues within the Baby and Child Lab at the University of St Andrews School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Joint attention is proven to have many benefits for language, learning, cooperation and social interaction.

The boxes are linked to display boards featuring fun and engaging questions crafted to encourage discussion around the content within the boxes and tips for parents to encourage more moments of joint attention with their children. Longer-term, the University is planning a research project to assess the impact of the boxes.

The scenes within the boxes were created by Glasgow-based artist Eleanor Stewart, using sustainable materials such as wood and paper.

Eleanor said, “I was approached to create models which would be child-friendly but also fun and attractive for children to look at and spark wonder and intrigue. The brief was very open, which was fantastic for me as I could let my imagination run riot. Creating fun, charming and whimsical pieces is my strength as an artist, using environmentally friendly materials, but they also had to be educational, whether counting shapes or finding out the name of a baby Puffin.  The result is magical, colourful, hand-crafted scenes encouraging curiosity, amusement, engagement and play, bridging art and science.”

Eleanor Stewart

Eleanor Stewart

Professor Carpenter added, “We wanted to communicate science through art in a fun and accessible way for parents and children and, more specifically, to explain the importance of joint attention for children’s learning and engagement.  Joint attention is sharing attention to things in the world around us with other people – it’s not just enjoyable, it also facilitates learning.  For example, research shows that, in infancy, focusing on things together with caregivers in joint attention can help children learn new words.  We want to share that knowledge with visitors to the Science Centre and encourage them to engage in this fun and educational activity with their children.”

Peek boxes

Sharing moments of ‘joint attention’.

The boxes were inspired by a much larger Peek Box that made an impression on Professor Carpenter during her childhood at the Alachua County Library in Gainesville, Florida, USA.  She added, “I still remember racing down the stairs to the children’s department excitedly to look in it at every visit to the library.  The new boxes were funded by Knowledge Exchange and Impact funding from the University of St Andrews, where I have ended up working.  It was delightful to work with Eleanor and the team at the Science Centre to see the boxes take shape.  They do a great job of recreating the magic and fun of the box I remember from my childhood, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the children and parents react to them!”

Lorraine Lemon, Business Development Manager, Dundee Science Centre, added, “As a science centre, we place huge emphasis on families interacting and engaging. We take real pride in creating an offering that works for everyone, regardless of their age or ability, planting that seed of intrigue and wonder and sparking questions and more conversation. The peek boxes allow us to do this with some of our youngest visitors and the parents or carers who bring them here to share the experience. We’re excited to collaborate with such a prestigious and world-renowned university to bring this important aspect of collaborative learning to life and shine a line on its benefits.”

For more information and to book, visit www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk.