As the father of a three and a half year old girl, I am constantly immersed in the toys and media that are marketed to young girls. Even though I’m aware of the limiting and inequitable messages promoted by these products they still pervade my household. My daughter loves princesses and ponies.. so I love princesses and ponies. We play with these toys together and we both enjoy this type of play. So are princesses and ponies a bad thing? Should I stop this type of play?
Recently the following video (see below) from Goldiebox has gone viral. I think this is a powerful video that promotes more equitable products and opportunities for girls. But I hope that we don’t lose focus of the bigger problems. I don’t think that toys alone are the problem. I don’t think that a Barbie doll, a pony, or a barrage of pink and purple will “cause” a girl to avoid engineering (or other STEM fields). I think that our own expectations of girls as parents, teachers, friends, etc are a larger factor. The way that we talk (or don’t talk) with girls about everyday science, engineering, and solving problems is critical. We also need to move beyond “construction” as the only type of engineering. Not every girl (or every boy) wants to build stuff. And perhaps most importantly, I think we need to be better at finding and labeling the everyday engineering that girls might be doing in their own play and helping them to see how this relates to STEM fields.
So here is my attempt to label and call out some of the emerging engineering practices that my daughter might be engaging in.
- She loves to build with Legos and design “forts”. These are the “construction” types of engineering practices that she engages in.
- She creates new “technologies” with paper, glue, and markers.
- She uses tools for multiple purposes and repurposes tools to use in new ways.
- She identifies problems in fictional scenarios and authentic settings
- She develops solutions to authentic problems by collaborating with her imaginary, real, and toy friends.
- She optimizes habitats for the frogs and other critters she likes to capture and observe
- She engages with digital simulations (iPad apps) to design and optimize solutions to problems
- She communicates her solutions using words, pictures, song, and movement
I hope that I’m able to keep the problem-solver in her motivated and engaged. I hope that she will be able to play with princesses and ponies and also be a tenacious and creative problem-solver. I look forward to seeing what kinds of products Goldibox and others will develop to help me to do this.