I love math and I love science and I always have. Being an engineer is something that I knew I wanted to be since I was a freshman in high school. All of this was because my dad always did fun science things with my brother and I, he always talked about how the car worked and isn’t it cool how that bridge was made. He also always made it clear that I could be anything I wanted. Having two little girls I already see how they examine our world and decide that this is a boy thing and this is a girl thing. I never felt that way, and I want them not to feel limited or pigeon holed into something because that’s what girls do. Ironically, I am in a very female role as a stay-at-home mom and my husband works. It makes me question if that adds to their perception of female and male roles and what are girl jobs and boy jobs. My dad who was an electrician (very “manly”) also did the dishes and laundry and took care of us when we were sick. I think I grew up knowing that anyone can do whatever they need or have to do or whatever they want to do. My dad by nature of being someone interested in science would provide my brother and I with experiences in science and engineering, but also provided us with a role model of a caring parent and empathetic friend. I want my girls to have all the options before them. This is why I am so thankful that the women’s movement has come so far and that there are so many women who work at work or work at home. Just because I made one choice doesn’t mean that I don’t want my girls to have any choice that they want to make available to them.
(These four pictures are old school me… seriously you can tell I had a single dad… check out the mullet.) 1 and 2. My dad would take us to fun places to learn about science. 3. My brother and I both dressed up like blown up scientists for halloween, my dad made the costume and did the make up (seriously why could he do that but not my hair?) 4. He took us to work. This is bring your daughter to work day but he would always bring home wires and meters for us to play with and take us any chance he got.
Okay so lets get off memory lane and talk about what my husband and I do today to raise engineer minded girls. We talk engineering up. W totally do. We watch “How it’s Made” on TV, we talk about engineering as it pertains to the jobs we had in the past, and we take the girls to Lehigh University (That’s where my husband and I both studied and got married) all the time. We probably over sell it, but in this day and age where they see pink everything, and love make-up and doing hair I want to give engineering and science in general a fair chance.
We do engineering activities. I make it a point to build things with the girls. This summer we built a kid carwash out of PVC pipe. We got the plans from FamilyFun.com which doesn’t seem to exist anymore. They had this awesome pdf with the instructions – luckily I still have the print out. Sassy Pants and I went to HomeDepot and bought the PVC and had them cut the pieces to size. We went home and built it and realized we got the wrong coupler to fit the hose, a great teachable moment – check what you buy, and went back to home depot. The project was so much fun to build, but even better to play with it. Plus the girls can take it apart and put it back together every year… a total win win win.
We also try and buy toys that can spark creativity. We buy legos, and k’nex and crafting supplies. However, I think our number 1 engineering inducing activity is our big pile of recycleables and found things that we store in a box in the homeschool room. It is literally a box full of strings, twist ties, cardboard, small toys, buttons, gems, weird plastic inserts etc. It is just a box of stuff. Miss Thing (7 years old) will play in it for at least a couple of hours a week, which is amazing since she is at school for so long. We actually had to make a rule that she couldn’t knot up the furniture because she would make an “invention” and tie up things that we would eventually have to cut off because we couldn’t untie it. I think having the freedom to really see how things work and how you can combine them helps get little minds working in good ways. With that said I have noticed that Sassy pants just doesn’t think like that. She has trouble with free unstructured supplies and often leaves them to look through a book, play with Barbies, or just gets frustrated. I know that it’s not her age (5) because Miss Thing has been doing her exploring and inventing for years now, I think it’s more a function of personality and the way her brain works… but we have found some ways to reel her in. We got our k’nex at the thrift store so they didn’t have any instructions so Sassy Pants just needs a little help figuring out how they work and the possibilities of what can be made. So if I give Sassy Pants something to play with that is open ended I play with her and try to show her a couple of ways that is can work and then see if she begins to run with it. We made this barbie doll dune buggy a couple of days ago. It was great to see them get excited about ideas and try and solve the design problems. Miss thing devised a braking system, that is it in the last picture. All of this to say that I don’t really actually want my girls to grow up and be engineers… I mean if that is what they want I’m all for it, but what I really want is for them to know that there is no limit to what they can do.