Girls and Math: Before the age of seven, there is no difference in math aptitude between boys and girls, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are women. 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math), compared to 68 percent of boys, yet by eighth grade the number of boys interested in STEM is double the number of girls.
Here at Mango Math Group, we know that these numbers don’t add up. It is critically important that parents encourage their daughters to be curious and excited about math and science beginning at a very young age, because damaging and discouraging stereotypes and social conditioning related to math will start affecting girls as soon as they enter a school system. Making math fun, achievable, and integrated for your daughter early on will serve her no matter what field she chooses later.
One of the most widely-cited studies regarding STEM and the gender gap was University of Chicago psychologist Susan Levine’s 2010 research into math anxiety in elementary school teachers. Over 90% of early elementary school teachers are female and have the highest level of math anxiety compared to graduates in other subjects. Somehow these teachers have synthesized their gender with their own math discomfort, and unintentionally pass the notion that “math is for boys” onto their female students. Luckily, research has also shown that parents can prevent this kind of achievement gulf by instilling positive math values in their daughters early on, enabling them to reject the math anxiety and stereotypes of their teachers.
Find Role Models
Try to surround your daughter with as many positive female STEM role models as possible. For example, it’s a good idea to choose a female pediatrician, so that your daughter doesn’t internalize early on that medicine is a male career path. And mothers, make sure you never defer math tasks to your husbands in ways that deride or downplay your math skills. Doing taxes or calculating the tip at a restaurant are good ways for your daughter to observe you naturally, independently, and confidently using math in the real world.
Don’t Discount Cooking and Shopping
These activities are great opportunities to teach your daughter or your son practical math. Empowering your daughter doesn’t mean discounting activities that are traditionally considered “girly,” especially when they are so productive for skill building. Recipes are an introduction to fractions, and shopping is a way to learn about budgets and addition. Cooking also has a scientific angle in terms of chemical reactions and heat.
Provide Instruction-Based Kits
Much like recipes, toy kits that are based on sets of instructions help girls conceptualize math imagery, leading to better performance with calculus and laying the groundwork for engineering careers. Girls traditionally learn math through the left side of their brain—the language center—meaning that being challenged by picture and design-based instruction helps balance their development and make them more confident and competitive with structural challenges later. Things like Legos or Connex are ideal.
Girls are more responsive to color than boys, and will engage with color-directed math concepts at a very early age. Introducing things like patterning or color-by-number books is a great way to stimulate math learning through color. You can also incorporate color into household in ways that will help keep your daughter organized, like color-coding binders or Files by school subject or using a color-based chore chart.
Parents need to take control of their daughters’ STEM education as early as possible, and teachers need to be sure to encourage their female students. For anyone hoping to give young girls a leg up, we recommend our MANGO math crates, which are available for children in kindergarten through 8th grade—exactly the formative window during which girls’ math confidence plummets and they are permanently discouraged from pursuing STEM careers. These crates offer hours of math-based play that will provide your daughter or pupil with a strong foundation of math confidence and familiarity. Order a crate for your daughter today!