Raise a math and science girl

Here's how to tip the scales in her academic favor. 

By Nina Simon

Electrical Engineer

As an electrical engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Nina Simon received the United Technologies Corp. & Society of Women Engineers Award. As a child, Nina's parents encouraged her interest in math and science with recipes, gardening and homemade puzzles. They also displayed a high tolerance for dirty hands and junked-up electronics.

Educational research has shown that while many young girls excel at math and science, most girls lose interest or become discouraged by middle school. Here are some ways to keep your daughter's test tubes bubbling:

  • Find role models. Most girls who maintained their interest in math and science through high school attribute their interest to a relationship with a family member or friend who was involved in science. Biographies of famous women scientists and mathematicians in diverse fields can introduce your daughter to a community of support and encouragement. (See below for book suggestions.)
  • Validate her choices. Girls excel and show interest in biological sciences, but often do not appreciate that these disciplines are just as scientific as the hard sciences of physics and chemistry. Botanists, zoologists, marine biologists and geologists are all scientists. Encourage your daughter to think of gardening, taking care of animals and other related interests as scientific endeavors.
  • Incorporate math and science into your games and activities. There are many fun experiments to do at home involving all kinds of scientific principles: Why do things float? How do magnets work? What is inside an egg? What are fractions? Exploring science and math through cooking, testing or just playing at home makes science accessible and relevant to your daughter's life.
  • Break stereotypes. Most girls lose interest in math and science due to pressure to conform to certain social expectations. Encourage your daughter to get her hands dirty playing with frogs or exploring circuitry. Respond to your daughter’s desire to do science just as you would her desire to paint or play music, and congratulate her on achievements. Let her choose her own interests, and then pitch in to help her fix her bike or study worms.

The best way to encourage your daughter's interest in math and science is to share her interest. Encourage her to wonder why and how things work, then help her figure it out. Look for books of experiments and projects in the library. Play mental math games. If your daughter has interest in math and science, there is no reason for it to flag in middle school. With your encouragement and support, the only thing you'll have to worry about is radio parts or ant farms taking over your home.