Science (and STEM) is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game.’ – Nichelle Nichols
Society has come a long way in terms of gender equality, but it still has far to go when it comes to encouraging greater female representation in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Did you know that women currently only represent 28% of the STEM workforce? This underrepresentation is the unfortunate result of biases against girls that are often reinforced by parents, teachers (and even toy makers) who unwittingly perpetuate certain gender prejudices.
As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we at makchic remain hopeful at seeing more of our young female generation rising up in traditionally male-dominated areas. Looking to be part of the change? Here are some tips to help families cultivate a love for STEM in their girls, and to foster an environment for continued growth:
1. Adopt the right mindset
(Psst: we’re referring to parents here!). Gender stereotypes (even unspoken ones) regarding STEM abilities can have a significant effect on our kids – much more than we may realise. Research has shown that there is in fact very little difference in boys’ and girls’ average abilities in STEM subjects, although many parents erroneously believe that girls need to work harder than boys.
If girls are constantly exposed to such views and expectations from a young age, they will likely come to believe that they are not cut out for STEM subjects. Don’t underestimate the power of expectations (especially coming from Mum and Dad), and the profound impact it can have on our kids. Let’s set the right kind of expectations for our kids to flourish in every field, regardless of their gender.
2. Invite questions
“Mummy, why can’t I fly like a bird even if I flap my arms?” “Why does the sun disappear at night?” With the incessant questions often thrown at us (and often at the worst of times), we sometimes end these questions with a simple “That’s just the way things are, my dear”.
Encourage your girl’s natural curiosity about the world around them. After all, scientists and engineers are professional question-askers and problem-solvers! Curiosity is crucial to the learning experience, and will lay the groundwork for honing key 21st century skills in our children, such as critical thinking, communication and creativity.
What’s also equally important is to let your little one know that we don’t have to have the answers to everything – after all, it’s all part of the fun to hypothesise, explore and discover the world around us!
3. Encourage STEM-related learning through activities
“It’s just an inherent preference, my daughter just doesn’t like science.” Does this comment sound familiar? Time to debunk another misconception! Scientific evidence indicates that these statements are actually shaped by cultural beliefs and not inherent preferences.
So what does this mean for us parents? We need to consciously make it a point to encourage and provide opportunities for our daughters to engage in STEM-related activities. A rich and diverse environment that includes STEM activities will allow your child to have the chance to truly decide where their interests lie. There are many ways to promote STEM learning at home, or you could even try signing up for a STEM enrichment class for some fun, extra-curricular lessons.
4. Highlight amazing women in STEM
People in STEM don’t often have the best media representation- often being portrayed one-dimensionally as being obsessive, geeky or eccentric, or being predominantly white and male.
Instead of perpetuating these false images, try highlighting powerful female STEM role models who have challenged the narrative in science and changed the world for better – in particular, groundbreaking women of colour, such as:
- Katherine Johnson, who helped NASA send astronauts to the moon and return them safely home with her brilliant mathematical skills. She also overcame racial and gender hurdles that made giant leaps for humankind;
- Dr Chien Shiung Wu, a female Chinese-American nuclear physicist that made history with her discovery, and is widely known as the ‘First Lady of Physics’; and
- our very own Dr Amalina Che Bakri, who holds the record of the most 1As scored in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia in the history of Malaysian education and who actively uses her platform to raise awareness, counter misinformation and educate the public on matters relating to medical health.
5. Employ STEM-centric resources
The next time you’re out at the toy store, make a conscious decision to choose STEM-related toys for your daughter, niece or that special little girl in your life. Introducing books that celebrate women in science, and educational shows with female role models are great for reminding our kids of the important positions women hold in STEM. For mums with boys, these resources are for your sons too! Let’s raise our boys to be men who see women as their equally capable peers – both personally and professionally.
Here are some useful resources to help you get started at home (and bonus: these books all ship to Malaysia!):
- I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer
A extraordinary edition of the New York Times’ bestselling picture book biography series, Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World, written in a way that is easy for young children to understand. Learn and be inspired by the life of chimpanzee scientist and conservationist Jane Goodall, with this book’s irresistibly adorable comic book-style illustrations.
Recommended age: 5 to 9 years old
- Born Curious by Martha Freeman
A comprehensive book profiling 20 incredible female scientists and their evolution from curious girls to revolutionary women. Though they all came from different backgrounds with differing interests, these women all shared one thing in common that largely contributed to their success…they were born curious.
Recommended age: 7 to 12 years old
- Mae Among The Stars by Roda Ahmed
Read about how a little girl who dreamt of dancing in space became the first African-American woman to travel in space. Little Mae’s curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents’ encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA. She serves as a great inspiration for other young girls to reach for the stars, and to aspire for the impossible.
Recommended age: 4 to 8 years old
An engaging picture book biography that captures the story of how boundary-breaking Grace Hopper revolutionised computer science. From coining the term “computer bug” and allowing people to “talk” to computers with typed commands, read about how this trailblazing woman succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before.
Recommended age: 5 years old and above
- Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh
This beautifully illustrated biography by award winning author Robert Burleigh shares the story of Marie Tharp, a pioneering woman scientist, and the first person to ever successfully map the ocean floor. This book will inspire young readers to persevere and follow their dreams, as they read about how Marie persevered in the face of discrimination and succeeded against all odds.
Recommended age: 4 to 8 years old
- Little People, BIG DREAMS: Women in Science: 3 books from the best-selling series! Ada Lovelace – Marie Curie – Amelia Earhart
The internationally bestselling Little People, BIG DREAMS series introduces little dreamers to the lives of three incredible women, showing how they overcame hardship to achieve great success in science, and in changing the world. Great as a gift, this boxed set was also selected as One of Oprah’s Favourite Things 2021.
Recommended age: 4 to 7 years old
Get intentional with screen time and turn on these STEM channels and shows for curious young minds!
SciShow Kids: A science channel that’s full of fun information to hold your kid’s attention. Hosted by the engaging Jessi, this channel explores all those curious topics that make us ask “why?”, helping young explorers to learn and grow with each segment.
(Recommended age: 4-8 years old)
Dr Binocs Show: This educational series covers many subjects, including science, through a unique and animated approach. Join Dr. Binocs and his trusty, inquisitive cat, as they bring viewers on exciting adventures to discover how the world works.
(Recommended age: 5-10 years old)
Earth to Luna: This show centres around an enthusiastic six-year-old girl with a great love for science and nature. She discovers how things work, along with her brother and pet ferret, even teaching their parents a new thing or two by the end of each episode.
(Recommended age: 4-7 years old)
The Magic School Bus Rides Again: An inventive high-tech bus takes teacher extraordinaire Ms. Frizzle and her inquisitive students on on high-flying hijinks that introduce kids to the incredible world of science.
(Recommended age: 5+)
Ada Twist, Scientist: This Netflix show (created as a spin-off of Andrea Beaty’s brilliant Questioneers picture book series) follows the adventures of pint-sized girl scientist, Ada Twist, who works together with her science-loving friends to discover the truth about…everything!
(Recommended age: 5 +)