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While the idea of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) is to encourage all students to study these disciplines more, there are a number of factors that mean women are still underrepresented when it comes to careers in these areas. Less than 30% of the workforce in STEM is female, and women in the science, computing, and engineering industries earn just 79.2% of a man’s salary.
These are some of the ways in which play can help foster the next generation of women in STEM:
Why is play important to address the STEM gender inequality?
There are a lot of stereotypes about STEM that are associated with women’s reduced engagement with these fields. As reported by the National Science Foundation, studies have indicated that by the age of 6, girls have already learned about gender roles and the different expectations for girls and boys.
Although there is more awareness and movement towards gender-neutral upbringings, there is still a focus from an early age on separate toys and activities for girls and boys. And as the technology industry continues to grow, it’s essential that more girls are encouraged and supported towards finding careers in one of the STEM disciplines.
Play is an important part of early childhood development – it can help kids to understand concepts, key social skills, as well as problem-solving and creativity. But it’s important that they’re allowed to make their own choices and parents need to provide a variety of toys and activities that will ignite their interest in STEM areas, without any gender stereotypes.
How can play foster an interest in STEM for girls?
There are lots of ways that play can help girls find an interest in STEM, but the most important thing is to try different activities and approaches. They need to find what interests them and be encouraged to explore that.
Exploring the outside
Playing in the backyard or at a local park provides a lot of opportunities to foster an interest in STEM subjects. There are plenty of outdoor STEM activities, but it could be as simple as encouraging kids to look for creepy crawly bugs and insects. Or they can spot birds and other wildlife and engage with learning about nature. They could plant some seeds and start to understand the science behind how things grow.
Getting outside is a great way to encourage curiosity, observation, and critical thinking, which are key skills when it comes to STEM.
Building a den, inside or outdoors, helps kids develop teamwork and problem-solving skills. They’ll have to think about how things are constructed and get creative with ways to put it together. Kids will learn through trial and error what works to keep it standing up, and they can try building bigger and better dens each time.
Giving kids some time and space to play on their own and come up with their own games is really important. Make-and-play subscription boxes for kids such as the Sago Mini Box are great for encouraging child-led play. Within each box is an engaging activity on a specific topic that provides some guidance but also encourages them to take ownership of their playtime, and teaches them at the same time.
Imaginative play gives kids a safe space to explore different concepts, play out ‘real-life’ scenarios without any gender stereotypes. It also helps develop intellectual reasoning and communication skills.
Playing with food
There are lots of ways to explore science and conduct experiments in your own kitchen. Simple things like melting chocolate or even baking treats can be turned into an experiment, giving kids the opportunity to explore what happens with different ingredients and how they interact.
How to encourage an interest in STEM when playing
As well as encouraging play, and providing a range of toys and activities that might spark an interest in STEM, parents also need to support kids in exploring those interests. Reward kids for trying something new, learning from their mistakes, and perseverance, not just completing the task, or getting something right. They need to learn that it’s okay to fail so that they’ll try again – a lot of STEM areas rely on research and experimenting.
Try to foster an interest in STEM subjects by relating them to their interests. Find ways to relate science or technology to their favorite books and films, or get them thinking about how everyday things are built and how they work. And if your kids show an interest in something, encourage them to explore it through play or by taking them to museums, exhibitions, and kids’ events.
These are just some of the ways in which play can help encourage girls to develop an interest in STEM. It’s important that they’re given exactly the same opportunities as boys to explore, experiment, and discover what sparks their interests.
Ashley helps parents who want to homeschool find the resources they need to successfully teach their children. Ashley is a former teacher, current homeschooler, published author, and designer behind Circle Time with Miss Fox printables as well as the creator of this website, The Homeschool Resource Room.