STEM education isn’t often thought of as an expected career route for young women, let alone as a playtime pursuit of young girls. Though there’s nothing wrong with little girls enjoying traditional toys like play kitchens and tiaras, they’re infrequently presented with the opportunity to enjoy anything else.
Why does that matter? Because right now only about 11 percent of engineers are women. And according to Scientific American, “You can’t be what you can’t see." So if we're going to get girls excited about science, our best chance is to introduce it to them in childhood through play. These toys should help.
Photo: Maria Poplova/Getty Images
Wired reports kids in kindergarten can find science intimidating, characterizing it has "hard" or "only for adults." At the same time, girls in particular begin absorbing cultural messages that their intelligence isn’t necessarily an attractive trait. But Doc McStuffins acts as an antidote to those ideas.
A talking doll with her own animated show on Disney, the Doc character is a young African-American girl who loves science. She practices play-medicine on her dolls, using her glitter-encrusted medical tools to treat and diagnose them. Because Doc is a child, her approach to science-based themes feels friendly and accessible, not to mention, it actively changes the image kids usually conjure up when they think of the word "scientist."
Roominate was created by three Stanford-educated engineers who all credit their interest in science to early childhood exposure to it. Their self-designed toy got quite a bit of attention this year, and for good reason: It allows girls to design and build a customizable dollhouse, including designing the furniture and wiring the rooms for electricity. Because the wiring aspect is simple, and the dollhouse parts are made for small hands, there’s no intimidation factor involved. Even better, Roominate helps girls learn basic engineering concepts while they exercise their imaginations.
Thames & Kosmos is renowned for creating a variety of cool science-based kits for kids, but one in particular unites the concepts of chemistry and beauty. Creative Cosmetics is the kit that teaches kids how to mix ingredients to create particular chemical reactions, and then use those principles to formulate their own unique skin cleansers, shampoos and makeup products.
Thames & Kosmos also creates a similar kit called Perfume Science, which uses the same principles so that kids can create customizable fragrances.
Photo: Thames & Kosmos
Goldieblox is an engineering toy with a twist. Creator Debbie Sterling discovered that while boys naturally like building things, girls really love reading. And so she created an interactive story based around "Goldie, the kid inventor who loves to build." As girls read along, they construct whatever Goldie does. In the first installment, girls build a "belt drive," which Sterling cleverly names a "Spinning Machine." Later in the series, they design a vehicle and erect a pulley elevator.
SmartMax Magnetic Discovery
SmartMax is a series of building blocks originally sold in Europe. What makes them special is that they're loaded with heavy-duty magnets, allowing for easy connectivity and stability. Its "Flower Palace" series in particular is a refreshing change from the severe aesthetics of traditional building sets. And because these blocks are also made from larger pieces, small hands can handle them with ease.
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com.Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com