Science, technology, engineering, and math, collaboratively, STEM, is a huge business. It seems like anything that requires assembly is now considered STEM to capture parents’ attentions and make them feel like a toy provides some sort of intellectual benefit.
My niece recently purchased a STEM activity the allows her to make edible eyeshadow. However, after spending $12 on the kit, we soon discovered that it came with a cheap plastic eyeshadow container, a brush, and two measuring spoons. The rest of the ingredients had to be purchased separately. The entire cost of the rest of the ingredients was $5. What should have been a $10 lesson turned into $17, all in the name of STEM. Additionally, instead of it being a project that required problem solving and critical thinking, it was really a project about creating makeup, which reinforced stereotypes for her that we have tried very hard to avoid.
While cosmetics are a huge industry that employs many STEM professionals, it shouldn’t be the only way girls are targeted as a demographic, either related to STEM or not.
Parents should know there are so many ways to teach their children about STEM that don’t break the bank and that really do reinforce STEM topics. Do a quick search on YouTube or Google for “engineering,” “science,” “technology,” or “math” outreach activities, and you can find instructions for hundreds of activities which cost very little to do with your children.
Remember that STEM is about solving problems. If you really want to teach your daughter about STEM projects and careers, do a quick search for interesting projects related to the above, and TALK to your daughter about them. You could create bridges or learn about solar energy. The internet can be a tool to help broaden your engirlneer’s horizon. It is often a much better place to learn ways to teach your daughter about STEM than purchasing an expensive kit that is disguised as STEM, but in actuality just perpetuates the often dangerous stereotype that girls are only concerned with appearance.
You can also turn your daughter’s toys into an Engirlneer with a little imagination. The dolls below started off as Disney Princess dolls: Tiana, Cinderella, Alana, Anna, Mulan, and Pocahontas. But with a little imagination, some new hairstyles, and a quick change of clothes (some of which are courtesy of Ken), these dolls quickly transform into the Engirlneers Tatiana, Sally, Betty, Gillian, Chloe, and Elan.
Instead of your daughter playing Disney Princesses and imagining a scenario where her doll must be rescued by a Prince, your daughter could turn her doll into an Engirlneer and rescue not only herself but her community, as well. A quick search of STEM projects can inspire your daughter to join the Engirlneers in solving problems STEM professionals would actually face, one in which she and the Engirlneers can save the day.
Unfortunately, girls have been programmed to play with traditional gender roles assigned to their toys. Even when a company tries to branch out and include girls, they simply apply a cosmetic fix to the toys (i.e., painted the construction equipment pink to make it more “girlie”). Often, these toys don’t sell well.
Unfortunately, many girls just don’t know what to do with certain types of toys. Girls tend to create scenarios in which their dolls are raising children, heading to the beach, going dancing, etc. This may be attributed to the fact the girls imagine scenarios with dolls in which they engage in personal conflicts, as they often see perpetuated by traditional “girls” toys, like Barbie and more recently Monster High. Most girls don’t know how to create scenarios in which an excavator would be needed because this isn’t generally what they associate with women.
Even if they have women in their lives who do this type of work, they aren’t likely seeing it on an up-close and personal level. To get that to change, parents really need to research ways in which these types of toys could be used in a career and engage in play scenarios with their daughters to teach them what these pieces of equipment do.
The possibilities with STEM are endless and, more importantly, cheap. If you take the time to learn about STEM activities you will quickly learn ways in which to engage your daughter and teach her to become an Engirlneer without breaking the bank to do so. You will teach also teach her to use her problem-solving skills in a way that’s fun!