Thinking Like a Child

Amanda Nobis observes children during her summer research project at Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
September 8, 2015

Amanda Nobis ’17 returned to her childhood for a summer research project. The psychology major from Hanover, Illinois, stepped back in time to study children’s behavior at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum.

Nobis observed how children engaged the brightly colored, hands-on exhibits at the museum that opened in June. Her research examined how long young visitors played with displays and how parental engagement affected that engagement.

The project was the budding researcher’s first independent project. She developed confidence in her abilities as she worked through the study, collected data and analyzed it with occasional guidance from psychology department chair Dr. Derek Montgomery.

“I was able to take real ownership of a project for the first time,” Nobis said. “It was an amazing experience that helped me develop my research toolbox. Because undergraduate research is integral for students who want to go to grad school, this will help me so much when I reach that point.”

Her study echoed other research that showed parental involvement directly affects children’s time and level of engagement in play settings.

“Parents really need to be aware of their role in children’s learning and play,” she said. “Hopefully this information will help the museum share that lesson with parents.”

Nobis plans to build on the project and potentially use it as the foundation for her Honors Program thesis in coming semesters.

Despite the serious nature of academic research, the museum setting kept the study fun and relaxing for researcher and energetic subjects. As Nobis discovered, many of the children reminded her of herself at that age.

“Being around little kids is a blast,” she said. “Unfortunately, as an observer I couldn’t interact much with them, but it’s really cool to watch and listen to them play.”

The Thomas F. O’Grady Experiential Learning Endowment Fund covered Nobis’ summer costs. The scholarship is one of three research scholarships offered by Bradley’s psychology department each year.

“I’m lucky and grateful I received funding to make my project possible,” she said. “It allowed me to do what I wanted to do this summer.”