The gender gap in the field of engineering is no secret. But just how large is it? According to the National Science Foundation, women represent a mere 13% of the engineering workforce. The field also has a shockingly low retention rate for female engineers, leading to recent efforts to emphasize STEM in K-12 settings.
Across the K-12 grades, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math and science scores do not differ drastically between boys and girls. In addition, a study by the Girl Scouts of America found that a majority of girls are interested in STEM subjects and their associated skills. So with similar test scores and high interest levels, why does the gender gap in engineering still persist? The short answer: STEM subjects and activities are oftentimes not designed to engage girls in meaningful and relatable ways, leaving them feeling alienated and discouraged.
Toys might not be the first solution that comes to mind to engage girls in engineering, however, there are a variety of toys on the market (often created by female engineers!) that are designed to do just that. Check out a few of my favorites below.
Makey Makey kits transform conductive household items such as bananas, tin foil, and pans into a computer keyboard, which allows them to control computer programs (ex. a banana becomes the space bar). The Makey Makey website provides dozens of project ideas including a banana piano and DIY arcade games. The imagination is the limit!
Build & Imagine Founder Laurie Peterson noticed a lack of building toys for girls, so she created Build & Imagine kits, which are a combination of building blocks, dollhouses and dress-up. Each kit comes with wooden magnetic building panels and wooden dolls, which connect to form 3D storyboards reminiscent of dollhouses. The kits emphasize engineering skills such as spatial reasoning and problem solving while also encouraging creativity.
Bloxels is a video-game invention kit for ages eight and up. Using the gameboard and blocks, young gamers begin by designing the layout and characters of their game. The app then transforms the designs into a playable video game! With a dose of both creativity and gaming, Bloxels is the perfect introduction to video game design for the young gamer in your life.
Exercise your imagination with Plus Plus! Plus Plus is a creative building toy and each piece is the same double plus shape, which allows for endless building possibilities. Plus Plus kits come in a wide range of sizes and colors and each kit comes with a pamphlet of building ideas. From animals and people to flowers and houses, there is no limit on what you can build with Plus Plus!
Conduct Dough is a fun and creative introduction to circuits. Make different pictures with the dough (ideas included!) and place the lights just right to complete the circuit. If completed correctly, the lights on your dough creation will light up! A mix of creativity and circuitry, this kit is perfect for kids ages five and up.
Science meets crafts with this unique jewelry making kit! Start by watching the crystals grow overnight and then transform them into your own jewelry by adding watercolor paint. Perfect for ages eight and up, each kit comes with all the supplies you need to make multiple necklaces, rings, pins, and earrings.