Walk down any aisle of a children’s section or toy store, and you can see a clear division of merchandise for girls and boys. Sparkle ponies and princesses aren’t mixed in with footballs and transformers. From day one, our children’s interests are being steered in directions based on gender. When we stick to one side of the aisle or another, we reinforce those interests and inadvertently ingrain gender roles in our little ones.
When it comes to learning, our kids are all walking down the same aisle at graduation and entering the same workforce. With a growing focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) disciplines and future success, it’s never too early to spark our children’s interests in these areas of learning. A TAP in the right direction can put our sons and daughters on the path to exploring STEM and letting their interests, rather than society’s preconceived notions, drive their choices. The Toys, Activities, and Parental involvement we provide in the early learning years can make a big difference in the choices our kids make later in life.
Toys and STEM Learning
There’s no need to return all the pastels and shelve the superhero figurines. It’s not about gender neutrality, but more so functionality. Whether it’s pink and shimmery or blue and destructive, it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure our children’s toy chests include educational items that introduce STEM concepts. Whether they’re sketching it, building it, or blowing it up, we need to provide toys that let them explore how to construct and operate moving parts.
Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, and we’re seeing Legos and building sets that target the interests and color pallets of both girls and boys. This top STEM toy collection from Popsugar includes Pop Bottle Science, rockets, and robots that will appeal to any eager learner. Focus on toys that encourage creativity and problem solving (i.e., blocks, kitchen/chemistry sets, etc.); any color will do!
Activities and STEM Learning
It’s important to let your kids sample a wide range of activities. Sign your daughter up for construction camp and decorate cookies with your son. Both activities involve creativity and design. You can also build kites together, conduct simple experiments, or explore nature. Playing board games and operating RC vehicles are just a couple of the 10 activities and hobbies that build engineering skills shared by Shanklin and Associates.
Activities should also encourage artistic expression. STEM is picking up some STEAM and adding Art to the mix. Through the arts, the creativity needed for design and problem solving is developed. Kids can get colorful and messy exploring the scientific concepts behind mixing and blending on the color wheel. You can let gravity take center stage with this painting challenge from The Artful Parent.
When you’re on the lookout for activities or STEM ideas, you can always turn to a book. Choose informational texts about space, animals, and machines. The Show Me Librarian has an excellent collection of books and activities to build STEM interest. A reading and retelling of The Three Little Pig can spark a day of building and designing structures with straws, sticks, and blocks!
Parental Involvement and STEM Learning
We comb the aisles, we fill the toy boxes, and we provide the first notions of gender roles. Time spent doing a variety of activities with both parents is imperative. When parents assign gender roles to the interactions they have with their children, kids adopt them.
I loved hearing about a friend’s experience as the only mom at space camp. Build a rocket with Mom and decorate it with Dad! As our kids grow, they’ll understand that boys and girls can do anything they set their minds to and find success.
It’s never too early to give our kids a TAP in the STEM direction. With the right toys, activities, and parental involvement, our sons and daughters can have a broad range of experiences that can lead to future STEM endeavors. When we remove the gender pigeonholes, our kids learn to soar.
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