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Expert Parenting Advice: Raising STEM Ready Girls!

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Teacher and mama of girls Pranati Bagchi explains why STEM is so crucial for ALL kids, and what parents can do to beat the statistics and develop STEM-loving girls

Do you have boys who spend hours playing with LEGO, coding enthusiastically or building robots with their friends, but your daughters show very little interest? This is a major issue facing us today as we try to get our children ready for the future. Jobs and careers as we know them today will change with the rapid developments of automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and increased digitization.

The jobs of the future will require STEM skills, which go beyond the knowledge of science and mathematics. The application of knowledge with the ability to demonstrate computational thinking, design thinking, prototyping, coding and robotics in new contexts will be vital. STEM professions are already in huge demand today and this demand will only continue to grow. These professions are cognitively stimulating, challenging and lead to higher earning careers.Big problems that our world is facing – like food and clean water shortage, the need for sustainable energy sources, curing diseases and maintaining environmental balance -will be solved using STEM skills.

Read more: How to get your girls coding

Why girls lose interest in STEM

Preparing our children for the future is important for their success. Sadly, girls begin to lose interest in STEM as they get older. By the time they reach high school, they self-select out of STEM courses due to lack of interest and motivation. In fact, even if the girls chose STEM courses, they are less likely to pursue a STEM career as compared to their male counterparts.

Consequently, women account for less than one-third of the researchers in STEM professions across the world, with the gap deepening at the higher echelons of decision-making. As a parent of a 13-year-old girl, I want my daughter to be as much a part of this growth and to fully explore the exciting career possibilities. Also, if you look at the bigger picture, with the way things are right now, how can we innovate for a socially, culturally and economically diverse world if we don’t have diverse innovators, with a more balanced representation of both genders in these important fields?

How to get your daughter(s) excited about STEM

If you can relate to this, you are not alone. Have you been wondering about what you can do to motivate your daughters? To begin with, you can provide them with the right environment and opportunities to foster the love for STEM at an early age. According to Microsoft’s research, over 75% of girls who participate in hands-on STEM activities outside the classroom feel a sense of empowerment.Girls need to be given plenty of opportunities to realize that STEM fields can be exhilarating and rewarding.

Have dinner table conversations about women who are doing good work in STEM fields and are relatable to young girls. For example, Christina Li, a Stanford University graduate, won a CNN Heroes Young Wonders Award for her initiative to host annual camps to teach coding to young girls. Elif Bilgin, a young girl in Turkey, invented bio-plastic from banana peels as a teenager. These girls have shown persistence and passion in what they do. So, when one girl sees the potential in STEM, she can become a role model and generate a domino effect to inspire other girls. Be sure to check out Debbie Sterling’s TED talk on “Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Engineers” which I personally find to be very motivating.

STEM Projects to do at home

Doing STEM projects at home can be great fun, especially when there is no pressure of grades. You will be surprised to see how much girls figure things out on their own; all you have to do is get them started. These projects are fantastic because the girls get to be creative, apply their problem-solving skills, design and test their ideas. The best part is that you only need some recyclables and basic household items to facilitate these projects.

For example, make model CubeSats (small satellites that are sent into space) using only paper. You can embed lessons on the common uses of satellites, orbital motion, force, and volume in the project. Or create devices to relieve that pesky itch in the center of your back using household items. Building Rube Goldberg machines and marble runs are a great way to learn about physics in a creative manner. Such projects require thinking outside the box and persistence, which are extremely valuable for developing innovative capabilities.

Read more: The best STEM toys, books, shows and movies for girls

STEM-themed books and media

For movie nights, you can watch age-appropriate movies that portray women in strong leadership positions in STEM fields, for example, Hidden Figures, Gravity, Contact, Arrival, and Interstellar. Discuss the main characters and help your daughters relate it to their personal lives. Read books to inform, inspire and entertain your daughters. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, STEM Gems by Stephanie Espy, or any biographies are good for older girls. Younger girls might like books like Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty and many other titles recommended by websites A Mighty Girl and STEM Girls Books.

Make STEM social

Playdates where the girls can play with toys that are designed to promote critical thinking is also a great way to enhance their enthusiasm for STEM in a social setting. CoderBunnyz, a board game for girls 4 and up, is one such game which is designed by a young girl to develop the love for coding among kids. Digital games such as Minecraft are good for creating and exploring a 3D world. TinkerCAD, a free, browser-based platform is interesting too, where girls can build amazing 3D designs that can be printed on a 3D printer. Robotic toys like Sphero and LEGO Boost are very cool app-enabled toys that can be used to teach important concepts of robotics and programming in a playful manner.

Hopefully, you will find some of the above suggestions useful that will help your daughters to explore their natural curiosity, creativity, and intellectual strength and develop their love for all things STEM.

Happy “STEMming”, mamas!

Computer image by Mimi Thian via Unsplash; all other images courtesy of the author

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