Most parents encourage their children to be the best that they can be. Yet, as a country, the United States has fewer and fewer girls pursuing an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). How can both of these be true? There are plenty of institutional changes that teachers and schools can implement to improve this situation. Here’s what you can do, as parents, to get your daughters into STEM.
1. Introduce them to STEM when they’re young.
Girls cannot aspire to be something they know nothing about. That’s why, when their children are young, parents must introduce STEM subjects to them outside of school.
You can do this without adding undue pressure. As children, kids are more interested in topics that are fun or enjoyable.
So choose books with engaging stories about scientists. Pick games that incorporate mathematics in ways that spark imagination. Purchase toys that allow little girls to build robots or bridges.
If kids are playing, they’re enjoying themselves and they’re probably learning too!
2. Enroll daughters in STEM programs.
Choose extra-curricular activities that provide opportunities for hands-on learning in subjects like programming or coding.
There are also after-school programs, workshops and camps focusing on STEM but without added pressure. These are excellent opportunities to explore fascinating subjects like chemistry or mechanical engineering. Kids play games that involve logic and reason. All while outside of their regular school schedule.
3. Show her the importance of this path.
Nearly every aspect of our world depends on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
By the time kids leave elementary school, most of them understand threats facing the planet. They get this knowledge from teachers, television and social media. Middle school students know we need ingenuity and a grasp of science to solve these problems. Emphasize this at home from time to time.
Help our girls see this route as vital in helping others.
4. Check out local organizations.
If your daughters want to get into STEM and already belong to an organization such as Brownies, Boys and Girls Clubs or Girl Scouts, check to see if they have any interesting programs. If they don’t, recommend that they start.
Other non-profit groups you’re involved in may offer STEM workshops or incentive programs, in a way that’s familiar to your kids. Such a place might help make them feel comfortable enough to try something new.
5. Offer your own expertise.
If you’re a mom and either work in STEM fields or have an interest/background/education in them, help inspire more girls and young women to follow your lead.
Form a playdate group with experts in other areas. For example, maybe a neighbor is into visual arts, sports or performing arts. Perhaps a colleague is an excellent cook and another woman down the road is a writer. Each one can take turns watching the kids every week. Learning about these areas can be a nice break from their routine. It also opens the door to possibilities they might not have considered before.
Offer to speak at your daughter’s science class. Encourage others through your own stories and experience. Ask if any high school science or computer clubs need sponsors or volunteers. Be a mentor to your daughter and her friends.
6. Contact your local library.
Libraries often have free programs where professionals and role models speak to children’s groups about a variety of subjects.
Some might demonstrate safe science experiments to try at home. Others might schedule hikes or nature talks about conservation issues in your community. If you know of local groups, invite them to speak in one of the library’s conference rooms.
Take your daughters to all kinds of events that encourage STEM awareness.
7. Watch some movies.
Family movie nights are a great time to enjoy inspiring and entertaining stories about women in STEM careers. These can be fiction, stories based on real-life events or documentaries. Here are just a few of some excellent choices:
- Big Hero 6
- Ghostbusters (2016)
- Mercury 13
- Hidden Figures
- Woman In Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA
8. Visit a local lab or college.
If you’re looking for an interesting, and unique, family outing – call local labs or colleges. Email female professors or scientists and ask about tours. Even their lectures might be interesting for kids.
9. Get online.
These are available to watch or read whenever you have a free moment. Many will inspire girls to explore their own interests in these fields.
TED Talks are another important source of valuable information in a way that’s interesting and accessible.
10. Encourage them.
Unfortunately, as they grow older, young girls will meet people who discourage females from careers in science. Stereotypes still abound.
However, parents hold more power.
Moms and dads can – and should – teach their girls, early on, that sexism has no place in our world. This is true now and doubly true in the future.
Our planet has many problems in need of solutions. These solutions require wisdom, knowledge, grit and a strong work ethic. None are gender-based traits.
You can start planting these seeds now. If you believe in her, she will believe in herself.
11. Research higher education.
Night classes at high schools offer science programs that are more challenging for bright students. Community colleges also have more advanced labs and workshops.
Many allow younger students to audit or enroll.
If your daughter is in high school, college classes can count as dual enrollment. This means she can attend the classes for free and earn college credit.
12. Explore internship opportunities for older girls.
High school students are often required to volunteer a certain amount of hours in order to graduate. Encourage your daughters to find STEM volunteer or internship roles. They’ll earn valuable experience at the same time.
Make this enjoyable. You’re sparking what might be a lasting interest in fascinating subjects. Parents who encourage their daughters to thrive, no matter the challenge, not only help them get into STEM – they’re setting a foundation that will help them the rest of their lives.