We’ve all read the depressing statistics that tell us there aren’t enough women in STEM (science, technology, maths and engineering). So, how can parents get their daughters more excited about these subjects?
Parents are partly to blame: research from the Institute of Engineering and Technology revealed that 93% of parents wouldn’t support their daughters pursuing engineering as a career.
Schools can also do more. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, video games developer and head of 343 Industries, Bonnie Ross, lamented that “many times there’s not even a way where I could bring a woman into a specific job because the candidates are just not there.”
She believes computer science should be part of the required curriculum in schools. Up to 91% of girls identify as creative, but they don’t associate computer science with creativity.
Learning about science, maths and coding in school is great. We can do much more, bringing a passion for STEM subjects into our children’s lives at home, too. As parents, we can start integrating STEM into their lives and fostering an enthusiasm from a younger age.
Here are some of the easiest ways for parents to get their daughters excited about STEM.
And yes, making slime together totally counts.
Make STEM a part of the everyday
Science, maths, technology. They may be vast, complicated subjects, but they’re also everywhere your child is. Digging in the garden for worms. Baking biscuits and measuring out ingredients. Cut into fractions – or pizza slices – for Friday night’s dinner.
Talking about STEM in daily life is one way to get your daughter excited about the topic. Seeing it is another. Use the buildings around you when you head to a city centre as a starting point. Ask your child: What are they made out of? What’s different/weird/exciting about their design? What would your dream structure look like? Suddenly, she’s thinking like an architect. And an engineer.
READ MORE: 6 ways you can inspire a young girl today
Show them the creative side of STEM
As Bonnie Ross points out, girls are more likely than boys to say they enjoy creative subjects like art, English and languages. The key? Showing girls that engineering, tech and science can all be creative. There are endless opportunities to normalise, encourage and show off the creative side of STEM pursuits, rather than making them feel distant, formal and like they require lots of tools or a special setting. Even playtime can be STEM-time, from building games to dolls inspired by famous STEM role models.
Make the science museum a regular pit stop whenever you can: with plenty of interactive activities (and free entry), it’s a playground of STEM stimulation. And creativity.
And – if your primary-aged child is lost for extracurricular activities, steer her towards coding club or a Mini Engineers coding camp.
Give her role models
Real-life STEM mentors, literary role models and female STEM pioneers can all help to inspire young girls. In fact, there’s no better way to get them visualising themselves as future STEM heroes than by seeing others who came before them. The Rebel Girls podcast is brilliant: it brings to life stories about women like mathematician Ada Lovelace, environmental conservationist Wangari Maathai and Katia Kraaft, volcanologist – plus, each podcast episode is voiced by an inspiring female for your daughter to get on her radar.
In addition to the Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls books, you can now find dedicated tomes with stories about women in STEM. Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World, Girls Think of Everything, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, to name a few which feature plenty of inspiring real-life women with fascinating STEM careers.
READ MORE: Female STEM role models to look up to
Younger children will also enjoy the many exciting picture books with female STEM protagonists: Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer, are two of our favourites. The Little People, Big Dreams series has titles dedicated to Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Ada Lovelace and Jane Goodall.
Let her see where STEM can get you in the real world
NASA astronaut Anne McClain was raised watching NASA shuttle launches, her mum encouraging her to explore her passion for flying and space. McClain knew she would be an astronaut from the age of three (she’s currently in orbit as part of the Worldwide Area Station). Introduce your daughters to women like McClain – read about them, watch videos – as well as finding potential mentors and real-life role models closer to home.
Is your best friend a gamer? Does your colleague love to code? Does your dad tinker with building model railways in his spare time? Female role models in particular are helpful to encourage girls’ love of STEM, but anyone who can instil a passion in the subject can help change her future outlook.
Show her it’s OK to experiment – and to fail
When girls play, let them play how they want. Urge them to take things apart, to see how they work, to try and put them back together again. Girls should be encouraged to try out a variety of activities and tasks, regardless of whether they’ll be any “good at them.” Failure should be brushed off, not seen as the end of the challenge. The sense of satisfaction and achievement when your girl does achieve a certain level in a coding game, or gets her robotic car to move, will be priceless, especially after putting all that effort in.