STEM Recruiting: 10 Tools and Toys Bringing Girls to the Sciences

Despite making up more than half of all college students, women are a rarity in many STEM fields, a fact that translates to few women taking on leading roles in the working world as well. While much has been done to try to draw more women into these fields, many believe that changes need to occur early on, so that even very young girls see science, math, engineering, and technology as being appealing and attainable career options for them. One of the ways advocates for change are doing this is through toys and programs that offer girls a chance to play, experiment, and engage with others working in science. Here are a just a few of the great toys and experiences that exist today that are making STEM a more appealing choice for today’s young girls.

  1. GoldieBlox:

    GoldieBlox is one of the coolest new engineering toys aimed at girls. Created by entrepreneur and engineer Debbie Sterling after more than a year of research, the toy combines a tablet-based app with a plastic board that allows girls to create a variety of machines. The story on the tablet is tied in with what girls must physically build, an element that Sterling believes will help to maintain interest in the product. Even better, the tablet tie-in allows the toy to receive numerous updates and add-ons to the story, giving girls a wide range of ways to play with the toy. Sterling hopes that GoldieBlox and toys like it will help young girls to see engineering as something they can and want to do, changing perceptions and stereotypes about engineers in the next generation of girls.

  2. Roominate:

    Another toy leading the way for a growth in STEM toys for girls is Roominate. It’s the first toy released by the girl-focused toy company Maykah, founded by Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen, and Jennifer Kessler, grad students in mechanical engineering at Stanford. The trio were inspired to create the toy by their own experiences as some of the few female students in their courses, a problem rooted, they believe, in girls being discouraged from having an interest in science from a young age. The women think that toys like Roominate, a dollhouse filled with ways for girls to build circuits that power lights, computers, and other devices, constitute one fun way to change the trend.

  3. Doc McStuffins:

    Girls looking for a science role model at a young age will appreciate the Disney-created Doc McStuffins. Aimed at girls in younger grades, the highly accessible show (and tie-in products) demonstrates to girls that science doesn’t have to be intimidating. Doc McStuffins is a young African-American girl who loves science, often playing doctor with a collection of cutesy medical tools designed to treat and diagnose what ails her animal friends. While not exactly educational, the show is a first step in changing the image of a scientist in young girls’ minds, and the show’s impact has already been big enough that in May of this year 131 African-American female physicians from all over the world came together to praise it.

  4. SmartMax Magnetic Discovery:

    With the SmartMax Magnetic Discovery system, young girls can get into building all kinds of things. Even better, because the SmartMax blocks are chunkier, they can be used by even those of a young age, allowing girls from toddlers on up to construct innovative designs using the magnet-based toys. While the building blocks themselves don’t come with any definitively feminine flair (they aren’t pink) like many others do, they do offer a set of magnetic flowers that girls can use to decorate their completed structures.

  5. Thames and Kosmos sets:

    Thames and Kosmos creates all kinds of science-based kits for kids, but they make more than a few directed at young girls. While the sets do still embrace some female stereotypes, they’re a step ahead of other science-focused toys that exclude girls altogether. Young girls interested in learning more about the chemistry of the beauty industry will find a few options to choose from, with kits allowing them to make cosmetics, shampoos, and perfumes right at home. Kits like these could be the motivation girls need to check out the company’s other ungendered sets that teach about physics, magnets, chemistry, DNA, and other topics.

  6. Design and Drill Toolkit:

    Girls are often excluded from toys that employ tools, but not from this creative playset. It comes complete with a drill, a dotted board, and a slew of colorful pegs that allow young girls interested in taking on a simple construction project to create a wide range of patterns. Even better, it’s not really geared toward boys or girls and can get either more comfortable with using tools.

  7. The Mega Bloks Barbie Build ‘n Style:

    While this new product from Mattel has raised a lot of controversy, it isn’t without some redeeming factors, too. It may be pink and heavily gender-stereotyped but it does encourage young girls to take on construction, offering them a chance to build a Barbie house rather than just play with one. Supporters of the set say it helps young girls to develop their spatial thinking, a trait that according to research will make them more likely to go into STEM fields.

  8. Computer Engineer Barbie:

    Two years ago, Mattel released a computer engineer version of its iconic doll, supported by the Society of Women Engineers, which many see as a step in the right direction for the company, especially after a few major missteps in the past (remember the “math is hard” version of Barbie?). Computer engineer Barbie comes with a smartphone, Bluetooth headset, and, of course, a computer. While still sporting her pencil thin waist and loads of pink, many believe that this Barbie could be a great tool for getting girls into STEM. As Microsoft’s Lynn Lagit said, “We can use any sort of positive influence that we have, because the number of girls studying programming is abysmal.”

  9. The Fairy Triad Terrarium:

    Getting girls interested in biology and the study of ecosystems may be a lot easier with the aid of toys like this one, which has girls create a perfect plant-loaded place for small toy fairies to live. It’s gender-stereotyped to be sure, but underneath the make-believe exterior, there are real lessons about science, gardening, and ecology that may inspire a love of the subjects in young girls from an early age. Related toys include those like the Insect Lore Live Butterfly Pavilion, which can make even stereotypically bug-squeamish girls love watching the growth and development of a future butterfly.

  10. Techbridge:

    Toys aren’t the only ways young girls are being encouraged to get involved with science these days. Techbridge is just one of a growing number of programs helping girls get firsthand experience working in science, aiming to develop a passion for technology, science, engineering, and innovation through hands-on activities, role models, family outreach and other methods of support. The program has even teamed up with the Girl Scouts of America to offer access to their STEM-based programs.