Raising girls in an education-friendly home can help create lifelong problem solvers. When girls are encouraged to ask questions, experiment with their ideas, and explain their thought process, they develop skills that will help them excel in life in general, but especially in subjects such as science and math—ones that rely heavily on strong problem-solving skills.
Around the ages of 8-14, girls’ confidence levels are proven to drop by around 30%, not only physically but also educationally. Around this same time, many girls lose interest and motivation in STEM subjects, and the pandemic has only propelled their disinterest and self-esteem issues.
The good news is that even if you’re not a whiz at math or science (yet!) you can still help boost your daughter’s confidence and empower her to return to school with new knowledge and excitement about exploring the world around her.
1. Expose Her to Role Models
Exposing your daughter to the powerful women of the world through books, movies, television shows, etc. can help her gain confidence in being a girl and inspire her own story. By being able to picture herself accomplishing the same amazing things, she’ll feel powerful and inspired to put herself out there and try new things. These are a few amazing female role models in some of our favorite books and movies:
- Marie Curie by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
- Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
- The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca
- Queen of Physics: how Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson.
- The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter.
- Hidden Figures (PG)
- Black Panther (PG-13)
- Code Girl (documentary)
- The Imitation Game (PG-13)
- Contact (PG)
- Gravity (PG-13)
2. Wonder & Solve Problems Together
Be curious together. It doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t know about science or math—learn together. If there’s a question or problem she’s stuck on, look it up together; or encourage her to research a topic she’s wondering about then have her come tell you about it. She’ll absorb your sense of wonder and desire to learn and likely come to internalize it as her own. She’ll also be empowered to search for answers to her questions instead of having them spoon-fed to her. This will help her not only at home but also in the classroom. With the confidence to ask questions and let her teacher know when she needs help, she’ll be able to better understand subjects that she didn’t feel too confident about before.
3. Do Educational Activities Together
The best way for children to learn is by doing hands-on activities. Intentional adult-children interactions can help extend this learning, so finding way to enjoy education can make a huge difference in her confidence levels. For science especially, there are amazing resources to help facilitate these interactions and make learning a positive experience.
- Visit your local science museum! You can use this directory to search for science museums in your area.
- There are so many free online resources such as Yellow Scope’s blog page, which describe experiments you can do at home with supplies you probably have in your cupboard. This is a great family activity for a rainy day or during summer when kids are looking for something fun to do with friends. Set them up in the backyard and let them experiment!
- Purchase science, math, engineering kits then set aside family time, mother-daughter time, or father-daughter time to work on them together! Award-winning Yellow Scope science kits are perfect for that 8–12-year-old girl in your life; check out A Mighty Girl’s website to search for age-specific math activities; or delve into circuitry and electronics with Little Bits’ electronic building blocks.
4. Embody a Growth Mindset
According to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, how students perceive their abilities has a big impact on their motivation and achievement. Students with a “fixed” mindset believe intelligence and abilities are “fixed” or unchangeable, whereas those with a “growth” mindset believe these traits can be developed. Students with a fixed mindset are more likely to shy away from challenges and asking questions for fear of not looking smart. By contrast, those with a growth mindset tend to ask more questions and seek out challenges – seeing them as opportunities for growth and development. In fact, in study after study, students who learned to embody a growth mindset performed better when challenging material was presented; they also earned higher grades and took more challenging classes!
Here are some phrases that adults can use to can help encourage a growth mindset:
“When you learn how to do a new kind of math problem, it grows your math brain.”
“That feeling of science being hard is your science brain growing.”
If possible, try to avoid suggestions that students (or you!) aren’t good at specific subjects like:
“I can’t do math.”
“That’s okay, maybe science isn’t one of your strengths.”
Note: If you slip (as we all sometimes do!) and accidentally find yourself using one of these phrases, add “yet” to the end.)
When she makes a mistake, help her think of it as a great learning opportunity.
5. Give Her Time to Explore & Think on Her Own
Children learn science best when they experiment, make mistakes, make observations, re-try the experiments, and then think about what’s happening. This process can take time. Give her the time and space to explore and discover on her own before jumping in with the “correct” answers. Providing support while she’s struggling with a question, problem, or idea can let her know you’re there for encouragement, but still allows her to problem-solve and get the answer herself.