Investing in Wonder


Informal Learning Initiative

Investing in Wonder

Have you ever met a young child who wasn’t asking questions? That natural and constant state of wonder is one of the things that makes a child, a child. What happens in those many moments of discovery shapes children’s interests and engages them in informal, early learning and exploration. When nurtured and directed productively, these natural inquiry skills help to build language and other skills that prepare children for entry into school and for later life.

Informal learning happens everywhere – at home, on playgrounds, in parks and libraries, at museums and rec centers. A few years back, the BUILD Initiative, with support from WPF, developed a study with the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) to find out what kind of programming in informal learning spaces was happening in Philadelphia.

The 2013 study found that while a range of diverse early learning programs exist at places like museums and libraries, access to these programs isn’t universal. In low-income communities, there are barriers related to transportation, entry fees, and the times when programs are scheduled (like during the middle of working parents’ day and/or night shifts). Additionally, museums and libraries face challenges to more fully supporting young children’s curiosity because of limited staff or educational programming expertise. The research identified an opportunity: facilitating partnerships among museums, libraries, and early learning partners can increase access, availability and impact of early learning programs for young children and their families.

Thus was born the Informal Learning Initiative that we announced this week.

Based on the research findings, this new Initiative is connecting the city’s world-class cultural and informal learning institutions with community organizations that are rooted in specific neighborhoods across the city.  Through William Penn Foundation funding of almost $2 million, 18 organizations have teamed up to create opportunities in eight city neighborhoods that build on children’s natural curiosity, allow them to explore an area of interest (science, art, food, play) and, while doing that to develop early language skills like expanded vocabulary, oral language, writing and comprehension. In addition, we partnered with the Children’s Literacy Initiative to provide shared best practices for integrating age-appropriate literacy development into programming.  

All programs will be free and scheduled at times and places that families can access easily.  Activities for children will include hands-on art and science activities, gardening, cooking and family museum days. And while the children engage with informal learning, parents are provided with activities and materials that can help them support language and literacy learning at home. 

The projects and partners involved in this Initiative are:

  • Discover, Play, Share: Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University with Congreso de Latinos Unidos and ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania in North Philadelphia
  • Puentes a las Artes/Bridges to the Arts: The Barnes Foundation with Puentes de Salud in Southeast Philadelphia
  • Nature, Play, Read: Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium with Indo-Chinese American Council in the Olney and Logan neighborhoods of North Philadelphia
  • The Watershed is an Open Book: Fairmount Water Works with Mander Recreation Center in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia 
  • Family Science Storytime: The Franklin Institute with Children's Village in Chinatown
  • Everyday Literacy: Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse with Parent-Child Home Program, Inc. (PCHP) in North Philadelphia.
  • Our Stories: Samuel S. Fleisher Arts Memorial with Sunrise of Philadelphia in Southeast Philadelphia.
  • Young Chefs Community Literacy Initiative: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with Families Forward Philadelphia and the People's Emergency Center (PEC) in West Philadelphia.


The Informal Learning Initiative is expected to reach nearly 1,800 Philadelphia children and their families and is aligned with the city-wide Read by 4th campaign ( to help all children become proficient readers by the time they start fourth grade. 

Just like young children exploring their curiosities, we will be learning alongside Philadelphia’s youngest learners. Researchers from The University of Pittsburgh ( will be key partners in this project, facilitating a peer learning network, providing formative evaluation insights, and helping all of us to learn how we can serve children and families more effectively in partnership. 

So bring on the questions, little ones. We can’t wait to see where they lead you.

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