Ask a tween girl who isn’t interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects why she doesn’t like them and odds are she’ll give you one of two answers (or possibly both): 1) “they’re boring”; or 2) “I’m not good at them.” These perceptions form early and, once ingrained, are difficult to change. So what’s the solution? Start by making it fun and meaningful. Here are a few ideas:
Despite our best intentions, kids as young as 2 can operate our iPads. Tap into that with games that covertly teach children the fundamentals of coding. Code.org is an organization that offers games and courses for kids from age 4 to 18, using characters they already know and love, including Elsa and Anna, Minecraft, and Star Wars.
Get your hands dirty!
Hands on is the best way to learn. There are a million “unplugged” activities to teach engineering and sequencing skills – like building gumdrop/toothpick towers or making maps – and most of them can be done with things you already have at home. Here are two to get you started:
Create a catapult to show kids how a lever works, thanks to our friends at Go Science Girls!
You’ll need a sturdy cardboard tube or other cylindrical item, a wooden spoon, a hair elastic and whatever object you want to launch.
Loop the hair elastic over the cardboard tube twice. Find the spot where the hair elastic crossed over and makes a X. With the wooden spoon perpendicular to the cardboard tube, insert the handle of the wooden spoon under the X, and slide through until approximately half way. Now you just need a projectile – and a target. We’ll leave those up to you.
Slime, super slime, glooz and oobleck.
Everyone’s making slime these days – and for good reason. It’s disgusting and awesome and easy and fun. As simple as combining three ingredients and as complex as explaining the principles behind non-Newtonian liquids. Get fancy with food coloring and glitter. Here are a few recipes for slime and other gooey substances, along with the scientific explanations of why they react as they do.
Playdough to Plato also provides a great list of STEM activities for kids at all developmental stages.
Role models, role models, role models
Who do tween girls see when they turn on the television or go to the movies? Make sure they’re exposed to STEM as a subject that girls like and are good at. Here are a few resources for kids at every age.
Doc McStuffins – She’s a doctor! At least for her toys. And her parents encourage her dreams and her desire to follow in the footsteps of her mom, a full-fledged human doctor.
Peg + Cat – Peg tackles relatable preschool problems using logical thinking and math skills.
Design Squad Nation – this fun engineering show challenges the idea that only boys like building stuff. The hosts are male and female, and the kids who appear on the show are a diverse bunch, with plenty of girls in the mix who show off their smarts.
The Bletchley Circle – the strong women at the center of this period murder mystery are smart and hardworking and may make young viewers more interested in math and science, which these savvy ladies use to solve crimes.
Just Add Magic – these four friends use chemistry and “secret ingredients” to mix up charms and spells, always with the best intentions, but often with hilarious consequences.
Look around you!
STEM is quite literally all around us. Here are some ideas from the smart people at Bright Horizons that will turn everyday moments into teachable moments:
- Go on a nature walk. A nature walk can be a great outdoor STEM activity for children.Take a reusable bag and encourage your child to collect interesting objects she sees like small round stones, leaves, seed pods, or flowers. When you get home, help her sort her treasures into categories, such as color, texture, size, and shape. Skills used: math and science
- Do a cooking activity together. Cooking with children is another way to engage kids in learning at home. Look up an interesting recipe together online. Follow the recipe letting your child help measure and mix. Skills used: science, technology, and math
- Build ramps to test which cars, balls, or marbles go the fastest. Use a board, sheet of cardboard, or small table with one side elevated to make a ramp. Try rolling a variety of objects, two at a time down the ramp to see which is fastest. Record your findings on a chart. Skills used: engineering and math
- Set-up building activities with paper or plastic cups. Give a challenge such as, “How high can you make a tower of cups?” Measure each tower and record their height. Skills used: engineering and math
- Explore the grocery store. With your child, purchase some fruits and vegetables that you have never tried before. Before cutting up the fruits and vegetables, have your child predict what will be inside. Then, with careful supervision, have your child help you cut up small pieces to try. Invite your family members to a tasting party. Make a graph that shows everyone’s favorites. Skills used: science and math
- Play with water. Water is a rich STEM material and water play activities is a great way to engage kids. Provide a basin of water outside so you don’t have to worry about spills. Provide tools to experiment with like a turkey baster, empty dish detergent bottles, plastic measuring cups, etc. to fill and compare. Skills used: math and science
The possibilities for STEM education are endless. Children love to experiment, combine new substances, build, knock down, collect, sort, and have fun while learning. Tap into their insatiable curiosity and help foster the self confidence to make change in the world — two qualities that are key to creating the female innovators of the future.