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Nurturing a girl scientist

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I’m a English-major Geek. You probably knew a dozen or two like me in college. You want conversations on Shakespeare, grammar, early science fiction, or a Fruedian analysis of The Hobbit, I’m your woman. I’m not science or math-phobic, I’m really not. But for the past twenty years, I’ve been getting most of my science from NOVA, science fiction novels, and pizza-and-beer lectures from friends. (I get my math from Vi Hart videos.)

My spouse is similarly situated.

Now, we have a precocious daughter who is exceptionally science-y. Has been since she became fascinated with early hominid evolution when she was three. She once interpreted a Science Museum docent to explain, patiently, that the skeleton he was showing was Homo ergaster, not a Neanderthal. In fact, it was Turkana Boy. She was four and she was right. (He’d grabbed the wrong photo.)

I’ve been scrambling ever since I figured out that I’ve likely got a scientist on my hands. Turns out that Women in Science is THING! (I knew that before but it wasn’t really immediately relevant to my life until that moment.) So I’ve done what I can: she watches NOVA and ViHart with me, I read the Scientific America blog, we practically live at the local Science Museum and Natural History Museums. I try to explain the science of what I’m doing at any moment, as well as I understand it.

I even discovered that most of the scientists doing studies in pediatric brain development are women. So I’ve signed her up for every “brain study” in the city so she can see female scientists at work. (At age 6, she’s had about a dozen MRIs.)

But I feel like, as an English Major Geek, I should be doing something more. Or different. Thoughts? Suggestions? Resources?

What do you think?

44 thoughts on “Nurturing a girl scientist

  1. Meg

    Vinegar and baking soda!

    Helping her perform experiments introduces science as both a collection of facts and as something she herself can *do*. Optics or matchbox cars are great for this since they don’t stain the floors, but I’ve found that the more destructive an experiment is the more entertaining it can be. When she has a question it’s great to know how to look up the answer, but it is even cooler to think up some experiment that could let her figure out the answer herself.
    Second, I’d recommend finding other kids who are way into science, boys or girls, whom she can collaborate with.
    Beyond that, sounds like she’s got great parents.

  2. Kristina

    I don’t know where you’re located, but there are a ton of organizations like Science Club for Girls ( that I wish were around when I was just a little geek. I volunteer with a few local groups now, and one of the coolest things they do is expose kids to a whole range of different science and engineering disciplines. It’s sort of like the girl scouts where you work on different badges but with a lot more rockets, museums, and SCIENCE!

  3. Kate

    Think about engineering! Engineering is so much more hands on than “Science”. Building, doing. Crafts are engineering too, look for electricity kits, Lincoln Logs, Rocket ships, etc. Teach her that engineering (and therefore science) is everywhere around her. Take apart things, put them together. Women in Engineering may not be as much of a thing as Women in Science, but it’s a whole a lot more fun, I think.

    1. Mel

      Engineering is so much more hands on than “Science”.

      Hey, we geoscientists and field biologists resent that. :-P

      Engineering and science can both be hands-on, but I think they use slightly different thinking styles. As much as I liked engineering-type activities as a kid, I also liked scientist-type activities (going and wading around in wetlands, looking for bugs, doing chemistry experiments), and they can both be fun–for different people or the same people.

      Engineering is not “better” than science, thanks.

    2. ischemgeek

      Chemists do, too! We often have to ‘engineer’ our own new glassware and experimental setups because we’re doing stuff nobody has thought to do before.

      And nothing feels more badass than blowing air into a piece of glass that’s molten <4 inches from your mouth! :P

  4. Katie

    First, high five for recognizing and encouraging your clearly precocious girl. I’m a planetary science grad student, so it’s only been a handful of years since I was in the same place as your daughter. The number one thing that my parents did that helped shape me was to provide books. The library, book stores, and amazon- everything I wanted to read I had access to. I didn’t always understand it, but the first time I read Hawking, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.
    I would also suggest that you sign up for netflix streaming, if you haven’t already. There are a plethora of documentaries about everything available for streaming. I love being able to re-watch documentaries and catch everything. Also, I’ve found that many of the scientists featured in these shows are happy to answer any questions you have, and are pretty easy to find by email. And no one who’s passionate about science is going to say no to a little girl with questions :)

  5. Arthaey

    Show her that it’s okay to say “I don’t know. Demonstrate being comfortable with uncertainty. Help her feel excited when someone corrects her because it means she’s learning new things, rather than feel embarrassed for being wrong. All these things are vital to scientific inquiry and progress. (Also, I think, with life and it’s uncertainties in general. ;))

    Teach her to be questioning and skeptical, too. Personal opinions and hypotheses are great starting points for an investigation or experiment, but you eventually need evidence to sort out the true ideas from you-just-wish-they-we’re-true ones. Teach her to check out people’s claims for herself (eg, when they’re telling her she’s wrong — she needs to be able to tell when she’s right after all).

    I’m happy to continue a discussion via email: my address is my username here at Gmail. :)

  6. Marcia

    Overall, I think you’re doing a fine job. :) I agree with Meg above, that giving her opportunities to explore the scientific method on her own would also be great: come up with a question, figure out how to test your hypothesis, and then do the test. Did the test tell you for sure you were right or wrong? What else could you do?

    Just giving her opportunities to do some critical thinking on a daily basis is important, too. If you hear something on NOVA or read something in Scientific American, talk together about how people know the information they’re imparting to you. How did they figure it out? Is there room for error? Other possible explanations? Questions like this will help her think like a scientist, and will be invaluable in all walks of life as she matures.

    Good for you for trying to do your best by your daughter! :) Parental encouragement is one of the best ways to nurture a girl scientist. My dad always told my sister and me, “you are every bit as good as any boy, and don’t let anyone tell you differently!” (along with, “you can be anything you want – as long as you get your Ph.D. in biochemistry first” *wink*). My sister’s a Ph.D. chemist, and I ended up with a master’s in astrophysics; the support works! Keep feeding her that kind of message, and she’ll be fine.

  7. Q-Rai

    I think you’re already doing a great job! But since you wanted more suggestions, here are mine:
    There are experiment books for children – I had one as a child and loved it, so I would certainly support Meg’s suggestion.
    Also, there are science-y workshops for children (e.g. I soldered a blinking circuit board when I was in primary school – I loved it enough to remember and start playing around with electronics in my twenties). Keep an eye out and take her there.
    My dad worked at a large pharma company and took me there repeatedly for public events. If there are any science-related companies near you, you could keep an eye out for events, I loved the ones I attended (they were not specifically designed for children, but the scientists were all very friendly). Universities could also be a nice place to check for events. Mine has regular events designed for children of different age groups.
    Best wishes for your daughter!

  8. Cathy B

    I forget where I read it, but I remember that there are a few early childhood skills that are either good indicators for or good preparation for later science excellence. In addition to literacy, numeracy, and attention to detail (and if your daughter can distinguish early hominid skeletons, then it sounds like she’s already practicing it), the two that stuck in my mind were recognizing patterns and organizing things into groups. So, make sure she has the things she can categorize and encourage her to do so.

    I also have a science-precocious 6 year old girl, but from everything that I’ve read, the time we have to worry about is closer to middle-school age. That’s when a lot of otherwise-bright girls start having self-esteem issues. Participation in team sports supposed to help. *shrug*

    My mother was in the same situation you are though. She had me as a teenager and her strengths were always in art and design. And then she had me, and I was really into science and math, and she didn’t know how to support it. What I appreciated the most about the way she raised me was two things.

    1. She supported any interest I had as best she could. For example, when I got interested in boats, she got a friend of a friend who was a ship-builder to talk to me about it. We always had memberships to museums and the library wherever we lived. She would listen patiently to me talk about whatever I was learning at the time (when I got older and started trying to explain calculus to her – well, in retrospect, I really appreciate her patience).

    2. She didn’t have any preconceived notions about what I needed to do for me to be a success. She wasn’t trying to have a daughter that was a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist. She never pushed. In school, sometimes my projects weren’t as polished as other kids, but they were always all mine. If I wanted to do well, I had to supply the drive, and then when I succeeded or failed, I had all the glory or blame. If you want to succeed in science, you have to have a mountain of drive, and by not pushing, she let me develop that early.

    Anyway, that’s all I know about. I hope it works out with you. It sounds like you’re doing well with your daughter all ready though.

    1. Jayn

      Off topic, but why is the answer to self-esteem issues ALWAYS sports? That’s a great way to KILL self-esteem if the kid isn’t athletic. I wasn’t even one of those kids that didn’t like physical activity, I was just never good at it.

      1. ischemgeek

        Depends on the type of sport I think.

        I’m not exactly what you’d call gifted at physical activity. In fact, I was in my teens before I could consistently run without tripping over myself and face-planting, and I was in my late teens before I could throw a ball and have it go at least in the general direction I was trying to throw it in. My batting average has never risen above 0.05.

        But powerlifting, martial arts, archery and climbing (sports I got into) are all areas where practice is more important than talent. Plus, they’re less about being better than other people and more about being better than you were last month, so they’re much better for kids who aren’t exactly the next Michael Jordan. :P

        But yeah, if your kid isn’t gifted in the physical department, stay away from team sports. Nothing more embarrassing than when you’re nine going up to bat with two out and your own team starts calling that you’re an easy out, jeerng at you and getting ready to go into the field.

  9. Ciera

    I agree that you’re already doing a lot of good things. Some others:

    * Go to National Parks and Monuments. Make sure to check out the visitor center. Stop to read all the roadside signs and discuss them in the car. Go to ranger-led hikes and talks. She’ll learn a lot about geology and ecology this way, and there will be a lot of useful history too.

    * While hiking, my dad used to play a game with us called “Whoever explains it gets a Dr. Pepper”. It was simple: he pointed out some strange looking thing (a tree that had grown weirdly, a fossil in a strange place, an unusual rock formation…). If we came up with an answer that he decided was satisfactory, he bought us a Dr. Pepper.

    * Get some science/engineering toys. I’d avoid kits that basically are used once or twice for a specific task. I had a physics kit that was pretty open-ended; it had about 50 different parts. While it came with a book of 10 possible experiments, the pieces worked for other things as well so I could make my own.

    * Big box of Legos. With more Legos.

    * An aquarium. There’s a lot of fantastic chemistry and biology to be studied there. Get some live-bearing fish (guppies or mollies), and get some amphibians. Have her do the water tests and learn about the nitrogen cycle.

    * A garden. Again, lots of biology and chemistry, along with some engineering (if you get peas that are 12 feet tall, you’ll see what I mean when you try to keep them trellised.)

    * Start a rock collection.

    * Build stuff. A birdhouse? A bathouse? A catapult?

    * Most important: be willing to learn with her. It sounds like you might be concerned because you feel like you have to teach her? I just wanted to reassure you that you don’t. In fact, if you’re learning it with her, it will probably be more fun for her and she’ll feel like it’s something she can do. She can also see you make mistakes and correct yourself.

    (BTW, do vinegar and baking soda outside….my parents still have white baking soda marks on the kitchen ceiling from when I showed my kid brother this trick….)

  10. Doryen Chin

    Wow, she sounds amazing! There are so many awesome women scientists not only in history, but also in fiction! There’s Bones on Fox about a female forensic anthropologist who identifies murder victims by analyzing their skeletons. There’s Contact with Jodie Foster about a SETI scientist who discovers a signal from an alien world. Helen Hunt in Twister, Laura Dern in Jurassic Park, Julianne Moore in The Lost World… For my friend Jessica – who is a female scientist (a molecular biologist!!) agrees that good inspirational fiction is a good method for giving a young budding scientist the nourishment she needs. Also PLANETARIUM SHOWS.

  11. Mel

    It sounds like you are doing an awesome job so far. Some ideas, mostly geared towards the geo/bio side of things because I have my biases.

    -Depending on where her scientific interests lie and where you live, outdoor field trips. Would she like to collect rocks or bugs or pressed plants? (Collections can be really fun for scientifically-minded kids, and 6 is definitely not too young–I know entomologists’ kids who start younger, and I started my rock collection when I was 4.)

    -Do any of the local museums have clubs or interest groups for kids? These might exist as standalone organizations, too. Science camps and museum classes are also a possibility if your budget allows.

    -While I emphatically do not think engineering is “more fun” than science, groups for building and tinkering are fun, too. I looooooved my Lego Technics as a kid, and I was not very engineering-inclined.

    -Monarch Watch and other citizen science projects (Lost Ladybug Project, Project Budburst, Great Sunflower Project) are often pretty easy for kids to get involved with even quite young, with parental help. For example, the minimum level of involvement in Lost Ladybug requires a camera and the ability to find ladybugs. Monarch Watch is more involved and she’s probably too young for tagging butterflies (but not for raising and feeding caterpillars), but you may have a local organization that provides training. Again, lots of possibilities depending on her interests and your ability to provide support/guidance.

    -Bugs are a really accessible way to explore nature, if no one has serious issues with the many-legged–you can mail-order caterpillars and mantis egg cases and raise them, buy a small terrarium and bring home bugs to observe for a few days, raise dragonfly larvae from ponds (a little more involved), etc. Bugs are everywhere, mostly very common, and not usually protected by laws against collecting (although I’d probably hold off on collecting and killing live bugs until she’s older, if she decides she wants a serious insect collection. But if a few die during observation, it’s not a big deal).
    -Keep an eye out for her other, non-science-y interests and make sure that in supporting her science interests, those don’t get forgotten. :-)

  12. Preposition Joe

    She once interpreted a Science Museum docent

    “Interrupted”, surely, not “interpreted”?

    Signed, an English-major Geek.

  13. Biobrit

    I’m pursuing a graduate degree in evolutionary biology right now. Your daughter sounds a lot like I was when I was six. My mom was also not a science person but she did what she could to foster my interests. We had a membership at the natural history museum and went as often as we could. She subscribed to magazines and bought computer games that overlapped what I enjoyed.

    Knowing what I know now, I would call museums and academic institutions for a behind the scenes tour. I work at a natural history museum and, while the public displays are great, there is a research side to most museums that the public rarely sees. That’s where I work now and I LOVE to give tours to children. My area of study is with mammals. At my museum we have a research collection 30,000 mammals that are not on display. I love showing rare bats, rodents, and other mammals that people here about but rarely see and if they do it’s at a zoo where you can’t get very close. Museums also house plant, insect, fish, and bird collections with similar things to offer.

    Visiting veterinarians, farms, or gardens are fun too. Grow your own garden and learn about plants!

  14. Roberta Guise

    A few ideas to add to the great suggestions above:

    — Locate prominent women scientists in your area–start at the university, and ask for interviews. Let your daughter imprint early and often that scientists are women, so that it doesn’t seem odd to her when she reaches an age when her friends are likely to start dumbing down

    — Contact American Association of University Women (AAUW). Again, depending on where you’re located, they have a wonderful program for teens called TechTrek. Given your daughter’s advanced curiosity and intellectual capacity, she might be a fit in a year or two

    — Have her participate in science fairs, or at least go to them where there’s a preponderance of girls doing science. Google has an annual science fair…you’d need to check the age requirements and again, with how your child sounds to be, she’ll probably be taking college classes when she’s 9 or 10.

    What a gift you’ve got in your family!

  15. CC

    from everything that I’ve read, the time we have to worry about is closer to middle-school age. That’s when a lot of otherwise-bright girls start having self-esteem issues. Participation in team sports supposed to help. *shrug*

    For me, team sports made the self-esteem issues worse. Something about always being picked last.

    I did, however, have a dad who loved explaining and demonstrating how things worked. I helped him rebuild the family truck’s engine once. (And by “helped” I mean I undid the bolts he pointed me at, and asked questions and listened while he explained what all the different parts did, and no matter what my question was he’d explain instead of act like it was a dumb question. I don’t know if I slowed him down or sped the job up, but it doesn’t really matter in the end, does it?)

  16. laura

    I agree with all of the above suggestions.

    There are tons of science related tours that you can take. BOEING! (my all time fav) Wind farms, dams, factories.

    I also think you are well placed to put the science in context – why does all this stuff matter? I know a number of girls who want to help people and change the world. As an engineer, I feel I do this. Maybe not as obviously as a doctor, but my work keeps the lights on and life support machines running.

    the Day the Universe Changed

  17. Tamsin

    I’m a former sciencey kid, now geology student at uni, so I’m going from my own experience here. Books were a big help for me, especially the Magic School Bus series (I cannot recommend this enough! I also loved the computer games, but I’ve no idea if they’re still available or still any good). Another book I really loved was Shocking Science by Steve Parker, which is all about the history of science and various scientific ideas (It says ages 8 and up, but I don’t think a precocious 6-year-old would have any trouble with it). I also read every dinosaur book I could get my hands on, which is what eventually led me down the path to geology.
    Doing experiments together is also great. One of my favourites as a kid was chromatography which I tried with pigments from berries and flower petals as well as pens.
    Family outings are also a good chance to do a bit of science – see what trees/animals/footprints/rocks you can identify on a walk in the woods, for example.
    You sound like you’re already doing a pretty good job though :-)

    1. ERose

      I’d also like to throw in a nod to Magic School Bus books. I had all of them when I was a kid, and it was more common than you can believe for me to be sitting in a science class later in life and realize I’d already learned what the instructor was telling me by reading Magic School Bus.

      I raised caterpillars and walking sticks too, and loved it.

      Overall, I remember the best science-y things I did weren’t framed as “SCIENCE LESSONS” (in a booming voice) but were natural parts of stuff we did as a family: going to the beach and looking for tidepools, a day at the Science Center or the zoo, etc. If you show a curious kid something unusual or new, they’ll naturally want to know the whys and hows of it all, so planning an activity that will produce questions and then having the resources or follow-up activities ready to answer them is a good game plan.

    2. Mercury

      Oh wow, I loved the Magic School Bus when I was a kid. That, and the Carmen Sandiego cartoon, which has geography, history, etc. in addition to science.

  18. Tara

    I was always in the ‘gifted’ maths and science classes right through school, and I think that where I was let down by my school etc was that I was never challenged. I never did homework, right through school, because I did it during class. I never had any extra work to do or anything, so I just read books I’d found myself or watched TV. I never really learned any work of focus or stick-at-it-ness or self-directed study, and it came as a huge shock getting to university where there was only 10 hours of face time a week and the rest I was meant to be learning by myself, finding my own sources for things, etc.

    I also think the lack of a challenge was the reason I left maths and science – I study law now (with a bit of linguistics on the side) – because in the humanities etc it was actually hard for me. I felt like I was achieving things in English class in high school, I never did in Chemistry, even though I consistently topped classes there and never did in English.

    That’s the final thing – I got a huge amount of pressure and criticism for not following a science career, just because I had talent for it. I also have a talent for baking desserts, but no one ever pressured me to become a patissiere.

  19. Jayn

    Along the lines of books and kits, I’d suggest getting her a subscription to a magazine. It’ll provide a consistent supply of information that she can look forward to getting every month, and will be an easy way of building up a sort of library for her.

    You’ve gotten some good advice so far. Mostly, just follow her lead and help to support her interests in whatever areas she explores to the best of your ability. As long as you don’t limit her, she probably won’t limit herself.

  20. Erin

    See if you can find any Bill Nye the Science Guy stuff… the videos might be expensive, but a local library might have them. They have experiments you can do at home and is about right for her at that age and with her drive.

    My parents used to also take me to Science Museums all the time, as well as found me summer programs for kids hosted by a university.

    I think just being surrounded by science in her popular culture exposure is also helpful, like kid science fiction films and shows, to inspire her scientific imagination.

    Feel free to email me if you want more advice… I came and went from science through my life and eventually followed it. Good luck!

    Signed, a woman finishing her Ph.D. in Physics.

  21. Christina

    I think all these sound great! I would add that, when I was a similarly science-y kid, my parents’ strategy of benign neglect was actually pretty awesome. Basically, I had a library card, a way to get there, time and space to pursue my own activities, and a standing parental policy of not getting upset when washable things got dirty. Your daughter sounds very self-motivated, and she’s going to find what catches her interest and brings her joy – I think the best thing parents of motivated kids can do is just not get in their way. :) It sounds like she’s well on her way to developing a number of independent interests and providing her the tools to pursue these interests is, I think, enough – she’ll supply the rest. (And continuing to validate her interests – like a previous commenter said, letting her ramble at you for hours about something you personally may or may not be interested in – goes a long way.)

    In response to previous commenters’ statements re: sports and building self-esteem, as a decidedly un-athletic person, I think any leadership activity, particularly one that involves peer education, is useful for that: school clubs, Girl Scouts, theater, etc. One resource I loved as a girl was the Expanding Your Horizons conference (run by a national organization), which I first attended as a participant and then, as a high-school student, help to organize. Finding those spaces where she can exercise both her science smarts and her leadership skills is key.

  22. greenstone123

    My daughter seems to like exploring her world and other people have labeled her sciency. If you are looking for another way to encourage your daughter, I would suggest helping her to think in a methodical way. If you are going for a walk and hear a sound, what is that sound? Where is it coming from? If it is a bird, why would it be making that sound? Write down or try and remember a description of what is happening where? When you get home use the internet or go to the library and look it up. Are the sources you are using credible? Let her draw some conclusions and maybe make an experiment. It may be no time and she will be coming up with all kinds of things on her own. My biggest suggestion would be to help her think and explore her world in a methodical way. Being a junior scientist doesn’t have to cost anything. It is just a way of being. :)

  23. Catherine

    Role models, I would say are the most important thing. Lack of women scientists is often cited as a reason girls are put off from entering these career fields. This book is an excellent resource for showing girls what they’re capable of:

    Apart from that, just keep on doing what you’re doing, and encourage her all the way. Especially during middle school and high school – this is where studies show a huge drop off in girls taking an interest in Math and Science, and I think awareness of this trend has to be the first step to changing it!

  24. Ben

    About the sports thing for self-esteem, I tried that but suck at team sports. My mum got me to try a rock climbing course. I WAS HOOKED!!! Met a lot of geeks like me as well as it is a sport that does attract a lot of us :-) What I’m getting at is that sports does not have to be team sports, can be rock climbing, chess club, kayaking, etc……

  25. Thorfinn

    As a Neuroscientist I recommend stopping the MRIs already. Help her develop her imagination, different ways to visualize and represent information. At six, let her play lots and lots, alone and with other kids around her age. Encourage her to read material from other places and other times. Scientific creativity needs not only lots of information but lots of day dreaming and imaginative activities. If she develops mild OCD or ADHD or Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, do not treat it as a malady. Scientists are rare.

    1. greenstone123

      ‘Scientific creativity needs not only lots of information but lots of day dreaming and imaginative activities.’ This is an extremely good point. It sounds counter intuitive as it can seems like there is so much to learn, but there needs to be lots of down time to just think and play. Science isn’t about knowing what we already know, but discovering or explaining something new or in a different way. It is coming to conclusions after careful thought and process. This means lots of free time and as this person pointed out creativity.

  26. Drascus

    Computer games that encourage learning are also great. Not Edu-games, but games that teach.

    Civilization, Minecraft (you can build a functioning computer in minecraft!), and other open-ended, more toy than game type games.

    When she’s older, something with a good mod suite too. Maybe she won’t be interested in computers, and that’s fine, but if she is, she could be a great computer scientist, going on to make Ada Lovelace proud. :D

  27. rebelipar

    I would suggest getting a microscope. No matter what field you end up going into, looking at things under 400X is always really awesome.

    Something like this seems like it would do pretty well for not a lot of money.

    1. Courtney

      Adafruit industries,, does a lot of kits. They also have established their own set of merit badges for science/engineering/tech skills. I think it’s brilliant that they’ve done so and totally want to see kids earning those badges!

  28. ischemgeek

    I’m amazed nobody has mentioned this before but: science fairs! If she’s not old enough to participate, take her for a tour – you’ll be amazed by the sophistication and quality of some of the projects. And then you can let her know that an important part of science is replication and have her pick one that she thought was really fun (that you have the stuff to replicate at home) and try to repeat it. Because if you can’t repeat it, how do you know they didn’t mess up (or worse, make it up)?

    Seriously, some of the girls in the science fair I judged last month (I like doing this sort of thing because I’m a young female scientist and I feel I can encourage girls into science by providing a counter-example to “Pshaw, girls don’t do science!” – which is something I encountered a lot as a kid) had projects I would have been satisfied with in undergraduate honors theses. Because adult role-models are important, but just as important, I think, are older kid role-models.

    I was a wierd kid that I didn’t really interact with my age-peers that much (Asperger’s is something that has been bandied by people who know me and have close relatives with the disorder, but I’ve never been evaluated formally – I will say that I’m socially awkward and don’t tend to interact well with “normal” people unless the “normal” people in question know how to take my wierdness :P) so social disapproval for my geekiness was just one of many reasons I got bullied as far as I was concerned, but my sister was pulled away from her childhood interest in geology by an older girl who put her down for it all the time.

    When she was 7, my sister had a rock collection of 4,357 rocks (she and I counted once – my geek-out things were and still are weather and chemistry) and she could tell you what type of rock each rock was, how the rock was formed, whether it was likely to have fossils, etc… by the time she was nine, geology was ewww, gross! boy stuff. Because she made friends with a bad role-model who actively discouraged her talent. It’s a shame – she would have made a great scientist, and she’s gonna be a mediocre nurse instead. Not that there’s anything wrong with nursing, but it saddens me to see her waste her talent.

    Kids’ science camp is another thing to consider as she gets older. Some universities run camps specifically geared to promoting girls in science, while others run gender-neutral camps (though, in my experience, she might experience sexism of the “girls don’t do science!” variety if she goes to a coed camp).

    Hope that helps

  29. Anastasia Bright

    Hi! I’m the mom who wrote and thank you thank you thank you for your advice. I do a lot of these things — microscope, experiments, she just bought her first Mindstorms (with her own money!). Since I’m an English major (though a poor typist :) she has lots of fairies and imaginative play and outside time, too. But you guys also gave tons of great ideas that I will definitely give a try. Thank you very much… not only for the ideas but for proof that there are women in science and I’m not fighting a losing battle here.

    Now, we’re off to go to the MIT/Cambridge Science Festival!

  30. Victoria Gaile

    I wanted to suggest another resource for you: in her sprog blogging posts, Dr. Free-Ride frequently posts her conversations with her kids about science in which she talks with them about what they learned in school, or encourages them to figure out experiments they could do to answer a question they’re wondering about. (My favorite one of these posts included one of the kids complaining, “You didn’t have to tell us that – we could have done an experiment to figure it out!”) These are terrific age-appropriate examples of how teaching science means teaching a way of thinking and a method of interrogating the world, not a collection of facts.

    Good luck and have a great time with your young scientist!

  31. Rebecca

    It’s hard to think of much to add to the great ideas mentioned above! One area where girls can often lag a bit is in spatial reasoning, and this is an important skill in many areas of science and engineering. I would encourage you to expose her to legos or other 3D construction toys (not push, just make them available). There are more girly-themed construction toys now, if that’s an issue for her, e.g.:

    And as others have noted, encourage her to not just collect facts, but to confidently ask questions, formulate her own explanations, experiment, and gather evidence. What happens if we…? How can we…? Why is…? How does…?

  32. Kristen

    You’re doing great! Don’t overdo it. In the event that she ends up deciding a career in science isn’t for her, you don’t want her childhood to be so defined by scientific education that she feels like exploring other options is betraying you or herself.

  33. Jess

    Find her a mentor. I never thought of myself as a “science person” until my mother hooked me up with a family friend who was a researcher. Because it was a relationship outside the family, it stayed really powerful even when I was an angry teenager fighting with my parents. She may need to be older for the STEM mentoring programs out there to be relevant for her, but if you are part of a geek community you may be able to find a friend willing to be your daughter’s science buddy. Or, if you have the funds, pay a local college/graduate student to take your daughter on science adventures!

  34. Mercury

    Science and English can definitely coexist–I came to college to study creative writing, but I ended up spending a lot of my time on math. I say combine the best of both worlds and take her on a tour of the public library. They’ll have lots of awesome science books there.

    I think you’re doing a great job. :)

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