Towards transformation: Science Capital in Early Years

  • Child with painted hands

It is known that children’s attitudes to science form at an early age, and stereotyped-perceptions of scientists exist in children as young as 6 years old. The development of such stereotypes has been attributed in part to a lack of science capital in children - in essence, a lack of exposure to ‘science and scientists’.

The level of science capital (SC) in a child is largely reflective of that of their families. Children from families with more science-related resources have higher SC and are more likely to want to pursue science at school. Only 5% of young people, however, are deemed to have ‘high’ SC, and most of these are socially advantaged and male! Conversely, children with the lowest SC often come from disadvantaged communities and are less likely to study science post-16. Increasing SC in young children, therefore, is key to developing better diversity in future STEMM workforces. 

What is Science Capital?

Science capital is a measure of your engagement with science, how much you value it and whether you feel it is ‘for you’ and connected to your life. It can help us to understand why some young people participate in post-16 science and others do not.

A simple way to imagine it is like a ‘bag’, containing all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and resources that you have gathered through life. It includes what science you know, how you think about science (your attitudes and dispositions), who you know (e.g. if your parents are very interested in science) and what sort of everyday engagement you have with science.

The more of these science-related influences and experiences that you gather and connect with throughout your life, the more likely you are to feel at home with science and see it as something that is useful and important, both in your life and for society.

TOES: Tinker, Observe and Explore Science

The TOES research project aims to increase the science capital of young children from diverse backgrounds, ethnicity and gender, by providing the tools for parents to connect school science with their everyday lives. This will be achieved by:

  • Delivering interactive Dip Your TOES workshops for children (age 5-7 years) and their parents / guardians, which will introduce the concept of science capital and provide some fun science activities for all the family
  • Enabling parents to become facilitators of children’s learning in science, and engaging their child’s natural curiosity through tinkering, observing and exploring science 
  • Carrying out a longitudinal study to evaluate the impact of the ‘Dip Your TOES’ workshop and accompanying material. Participant’s future engagement in science-related experiences will be monitored through the use of e-surveys, paper-based questionnaires, interviews and focus groups over a 5-year period.

Project Team


Dr Nicole Fielding      Lynn Pickerell      


Prof Belinda Colston  Prof Ian Abrahams