When girls and boys enter kindergarten, they typically start off on a level playing field with similarly measured math and science abilities. But by the time these same students graduate from high school, the girls will be behind boys in both ability and self-esteem for both of these subjects. Previous studies have shown that many girls' interest in science declines as they go through school. And many parents and teachers have been inclined to believe that if middle-school and high-school girls show no interest in science or math, there's little anyone can do about it.
But for many girls, this lack of interest is really just a lack of confidence, and it's something any parent with a daughter should take seriously. When girls avoid math and science classes they may not realize that they are cutting themselves off from lucrative opportunities in college and careers ... not to mention potential opportunities to save the planet!
Here are a few ideas for keeping your daughters active and interested in math and science throughout their school years, and beyond:
- Play games that revolve around math and science. Count, multiply and focus on fractions while you're at the store, traveling or dining out. Point out outdoor scenes (like squirrels in a tree or a meadow of flowers) and get your daughter thinking about nature.
- Take a field trip to your local natural history museum or get involved in recycling or gardening in your community.
- Emphasize talent. Be sure to point out all of the areas where your daughter excels in science, even if she doesn't realize that her abilities are scientific. Is she good with animals? Does she love to arrange flowers? Did she do a great job researching the family tree? Each of these abilities could spur her interest in sciences like ecology, botany or even genetics.
- Reach for the AP. Girls are woefully underrepresented in advanced placement classes like science, math and physics. And more often than not, a girl's sole objection for avoiding these classes are that she won't have any friends in there with her. Encourage your daughter to break from the pack for these few classes each day and remind her that she can catch up with her friends at lunch or in PE.
- Be a name-dropper. Make it a point to casually mention famous female mathematicians and scientists (like Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead, and Florence Nightingale) and their incredible contributions to society.
- Partner with teachers. If your daughter is doing poorly in math or science be sure to chat with her teachers about the best ways to boost her confidence and improve scores.
- Do your homework. Keep a close eye on your daughter's math and science homework ... especially if she starts to have problems. If you can, sit down with her to go over problems and work through answers. For extra help, try some of the activities in How to Encourage Girls in Math and Science by Joan Skolnick.