Top 10 Ways Families Can Encourage Girls' Interest in Computing
Technology is a fast-growing, high-paying, creative field. Here are 10 ways that you, as a family member, can encourage the girls in your life to explore, study, and have a career in computer science (CS) and related technology fields.
Encourage and help her to envision success.
Expect girls to do well in math and technology, and communicate your expectations clearly. Celebrate all attempts at trying new things. Recognize effort, strategies, and behaviors: “It’s obvious you put a lot of work into this project.” “Great idea to brainstorm and plan before jumping in!” You don’t have to be comfortable with math, science or technology to be positive. Encouragement is a major factor in girls’ decisions to pursue technology.
It’s never too early to encourage girls (even preschoolers) to explore technology. There are many ways to spark her interest: show her examples of women in computing; read books about science and engineering (e.g., Rosie Revere Engineer, Hello Ruby, or Cool Engineering Activities for Girls); or encourage hands-on play with puzzles and building toys. There are also many free online resources that teach children about computer science and engineering (e.g., Khan Academy, YouTube, code.org).
Having a “growth mindset” means understanding that we are not born knowing how to do things, but instead learn how to do new things and improve our skills. Rather than saying, “You’re smart,” celebrate persistence by saying, “What did you learn from that project?” Learning from mistakes is an important step in getting new skills.
Girls like to be with their friends and enjoy doing what their friends are doing. Choose activities that girls can do together (e.g., Host a Family Code Night, start a coding club, build a robot out of recycled materials, go to a programming camp, join a robotics team). Encourage her and her friends to participate in computing contests. This will help girls feel that they belong in computing.
When you explore with her, you show her that these topics are interesting and that it’s important to continue learning as an adult, whether you are male or female. Together, look through instructional websites and videos, and see how technology is part of nearly everything. Investigate with her: “I wonder how they did that?” Ask her, “What problem do you want to solve?” and together find ways to connect science and technology with her other interests, such as pets, art, music, health, or sports.
Give girls chances to use tools, build, and explore hands-on projects. Take apart household items and (unplugged) electronics to see how things work. Ask girls to help fix the computer. Hands-on activities help girls develop confidence and strengthen their spatial skills. Find more ways to get hands-on with: E-textiles(toolkit for making electronic toys and clothes) and Girl Makers(hands-on activity ideas).
Learn more about the importance of developing these skills:
Plug into local and national organizations that offer technology programming.
Connect with local, regional, and national programs and organizations (e.g., Girl Scouts, Girls Who Code, Society of Women Engineers) that offer programs focused on science and technology. Encourage girls to join school clubs — robotics, graphics, photography. Most museums have one free day a month and many science fairs are open to the public. Find a museum near you: ncwit.org/findamuseum.
Help her create new technology and solve problems.
Show her that computer scientists use technology to solve real-world problems. Move from playing with technology toys and gadgets to creating mobile phone apps or software programs. Explore interactive online programs (e.g., Scratch) for interesting project ideas.
Suggest she take computer science and technology classes.
Computing is becoming increasingly important, so every student should take a CS class in high school, online, at a community college, or at university (e.g., Introduction to Programming, AP Computer Principles, Exploring Computer Science). Encourage girls to take as many math, science, and CS classes as she can in high school. Families can influence school priorities; let schools know you want more computing activities. For more information on CS curriculum, visit: https://studio.code.org/courses.
Children benefit from having role models and mentors. They may identify better with computing when they see people they admire in the field. Technology professionals, family members, and teachers are often good candidates. Girls themselves can become mentors for younger girls or for girls less experienced in technology. FabFems is a great resource for identifying local mentors and role models.