In an increasingly digital economy, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are becoming extremely sought-after in the job market.
Unfortunately, there is still a gender gap in the current number of young women holding STEM degrees. Women earn only about 35 percent of all undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, even though degrees in these fields account for almost 60 percent of all college degrees awarded.
Because of this trend, education around STEM subjects is becoming a priority offering among schools in order to distinguish themselves and provide students with a valuable education.
Parents, too, can have a powerful and dramatic impact outside the classroom by fostering girls' interest in STEM to help them develop a lasting passion for these subjects and activities.
Consider these three tips to promote and encourage interest in STEM outside of the classroom.
Introduce creative problem-solving at home.
Encourage your child to brainstorm ways to introduce problem-solving with a design or engineering focus.
For example, if your child or family is facing a problem, work to together to find innovative or creative ways to solve it. This could include a home-improvement project, designing and building a tool or device that will help solve an obstacle they face in their day-to-day activities.
Introducing and practicing problem-solving through critical thinking, identifying patterns and finding clarity in complex situations will help develop proficiency.
Combine informal and formal learning through extracurricular activities.
Introducing children to extracurricular activities that are fun and tap into STEM skills can increase long-term proficiency and interest in these areas. Activities could include Girl Scouts, local coding clubs such as Girls Who Code, and even creative activities such as baking classes, simple auto mechanics or robotics competitions, which require precision with measurements and attention to detail.
These after-school programs and clubs can also introduce children to peers with similar interests that they can relate to and learn from. Extracurricular activities support STEM learning because they require computational thinking where kids can solve problems and investigate, create and tell stories while making new friends with similar interests.
Place value in non-cognitive skills.
These include perseverance, self-discipline, teamwork, focus and organization. Unlike the cognitive skills of reasoning, problem-solving and critical thinking, non-cognitive skills relate to attitude, values and confidence. It takes attention, care and nurturing to help children cultivate these skills.
Confidence is vitally important with STEM subjects, which can often be difficult, require experimentation and may test patience and persistence. Facing failure and not giving up is key. Parents that place value in perseverance and positivity will help their children understand that failing can be an important part of the learning experience. Even beyond STEM subjects, confidence and strong values will help children to overcome obstacles they may face in their personal and professional lives.
Inspire interest through role models. There is no underestimating the power of role models to help inspire young women, especially engaged parents who show an interest in STEM-themed activities and events. It’s strong motivation and fuel to help them seize these opportunities and succeed in the pursuit of these challenging yet rewarding subjects.
In addition to exposing young girls to STEM-themed activities and events, parents can help children understand and visualize how these skills can lead to a STEM-related career. Communicate in a way that helps them imagine themselves being a mathematician, astronaut or computer scientist.
Explore opportunities to introduce your children to women in STEM careers so that they can see themselves reflected in a career grounded in confidence and intellect. Identifying these opportunities — as well as role models inside and outside the classroom that provide active encouragement — will help inspire more young women to engage with and study STEM subjects.
As research continues to prove that starting STEM education early makes students more interested and proficient in the subjects throughout their schooling, parents and educations need to provide girls with equal opportunities to develop an aptitude in STEM. It's never too early to begin to lay the foundation they need to pursue and exceed in STEM careers.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2018, and updated in January 2022.