While most moms and dads are familiar with STEM topics (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), incorporating them into home lesson plans may not be at the top of the list as they struggle to cover the basics. However, teaching young girls about STEM doesn’t have to be intimidating, and the benefits are endless.
“Remember that girls initially are better at things like math and science because they mature earlier,” says Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of the nonprofit AnitaB.org, a group dedicated to promoting greater equality for women technologists in business, academia and government. “STEM isn’t something they have to be introduced to. We have to change our system to meet the needs of our women and nurture what’s in there.”
Easier than you think
Wilkerson says one key approach to teaching daughters about STEM is linking it with things they already care about.
“Find out what your girls are interested in and connect that with some form of STEM. Parents should ask themselves how they can show the ‘sheroes’ who are interested in the same things, and how they can apply STEM to those things to solve the problems of humanity.”
How you frame it is also crucial.
“We put robots in front of little boys, and dolls and vacuum cleaners in front of girls. Giving robots to girls opens them up to the possibilities. It lets them know ‘I can do it, too.'”
Use your resources
Finding STEM tools, workshops and activities for girls of all ages is just a mouse click away.
“Don’t try to be the expert,” Wilkerson explains. “Google what they’re interested in. On your computer you can type in ‘STEM for kids’, ‘music and STEM’ or maybe ‘hip-hop and coding.’ There are so many things available online for cheap or even free.”
Keep it age appropriate
According to Lucia Hicks-Williams, AnitaB.org Chief Operating Officer, parents should expose their daughters to STEM as soon as possible. Hanging mobiles over cribs should be just the beginning.
“The world is a living laboratory to teach your kids about STEM, and you can integrate it into the things they do every day. Just remember to make it relatable, something they can touch.”
For children ages five and under, Hicks-Williams suggests simple activities, such as pouring milk into a glass or experimenting with different shapes and sizes. Older kids may want to explore music, dance, or computer programs.
“There are lots of online resources geared toward bite-size STEM education. You just have to look.”
Hicks-Williams also believes girls should be made aware of their abilities as soon as possible.
“We’re naturally curious. It’s important to get girls engaged in understanding STEM, so they can solve the problems they see, touch, and feel every day.
“When we connect them to STEM, they’re able to participate in conversations that are important to our society.”
Hicks-Williams says having a STEM education opens up a world of possibilities.
“There are so many ways you can apply technology. A STEM education, whether formal or informal, can lead you to so many careers and a way to connect with women of all types.”
Wilkerson adds, “I can’t wait to see the things that are going to come out of those little girls being freed up to use STEM in the way they are uniquely able to use it.”