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STEM Activities for Young Girls

I did my undergraduate degree in environmental science and geography. I don't remember our class being dominated by men, but the job market is a different story. When it comes to positions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), women are underrepresented. 

In my final year I was asked to participate in a special science program for high school girls; they came to visit the university for a day, and took part in a variety of activities. I took them on a tour of the local woodland, and we chatted about invasive species. Later, they heard from successful female scientists and mathematicians. It was a lot of fun, and I saw how enthusiastic the girls were about what they were seeing and doing.

Fast forward many years, and I now have two girls of my own. I see how easy it is to fall into the "princess trap." Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to play with dolls and dress up "bootiful" (as my 3 year old puts it), but there are other things we can do with our girls to foster their interest in STEM.

I'm lucky that my husband is a maker, and has my 7 year-old in his shop all the time hammering and drilling. But for parents like me (give me a good book instead of a hammer!) we sometimes need a few ideas to get motivated.

So, I was really excited while volunteering with my daughter's Brownies pack recently because we spent the whole evening doing STEM activities in celebration of The International Day of the Girl. Below are several easy activities you can do at home with your girls. Better yet, gather some of their friends and make it a fun afternoon!

Psychedelic Milk

Materials:

- shallow bowls
- milk
- liquid dish soap
- food colouring
- Q-tips

Instructions:

Pour a small amount of milk into the bowls. Take several different jars of food colouring, and squeeze a couple of drops into the centre of the milk (make sure to keep the drops close together) Dip one end of the Q-tip into the liquid soap, and gently touch the centre of the bowl. Watch the colours swirl and move. To read more about the science behind this, check out this great website.

*note: the first time we tried this, the girls started mixing the drops of food colouring into the milk. This meant they didn't get to see the cool swirls of colour, so make sure to instruct them NOT to mix!

Marble Run

So easy and fun! Materials needed:

- empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls
- empty kleenex boxes
- duck tape
- marbles

If you have enough girls, divide them into two groups and make it a contest. Depending on their ages, you may need to help them think about how they will design the marble run so that the marble actually rolls. But I was surprised to see how ingenious our 7 and 8 year-olds were, and our marble ran!!

Dropping acid

Haha, nope, this one is not about drugs. It's all about acids and "bases" - which are opposites. Mix 'em together and you can get a colourful surprise! Materials needed:

- homemade red cabbage juice (blend 4 red cabbage leaves in your blender with some water; strain. If you don't have a blender, boil the leaves for about 30 minutes and strain.)
- clear glasses
- water
- several bases (try lemon juice, Coke, cleaning products, tap water, pickle brine, baking soda)

Make your red cabbage juice, and make sure it cools to room temperature. This liquid becomes your pH indicator. Now mix in your "bases" (test substances) in equal parts to the cabbage water, and record what happens. Warm colours (red or yellow) indicate that the substance is acidic. Cool colours (green, blue, purple) indicate a basic substance. If the cabbage juice doesn't change colours at all, then the test substance is neutral. Read more about the science behind this experiment.

Odd Todd and Even Steven

I love this math activity, that teaches kids all about odd and even numbers. This website includes free printables

We have been introducing the concept of odd and even to our kids with this handy trick for settling disputes. Now when the kids are having a disagreement I say "odd or even!" and that settles it. There are still tears, but at least the blame is no longer on me.