To coincide with International Women’s Day, Primo Toys have asked a group of parent bloggers to get involved with their ‘Coding Girls Challenge’. The challenge involves interviewing our daughters to find what inspires them and how this can be connected to STEM skills such as coding.
Our daughter Roo is four and is the middle child, sandwiched between two brothers NJ (8) and Jasperino (nearly 1). She is also the most low maintenance of our three kids, which means a lot of our time and energy is often spent on dealing with NJ’s high sensitivities and intense emotions and Jasperino’s needs for just being a baby.
Despite this, Roo is an intelligent girl who loves drawing and writing and over the last few months has amazed us with how quickly she has picked up phonics and reading and riding her bike without any stabilisers. Having an older brother to compete with has also meant we try to be as gender-neutral as possible. The majority of modern toys makes it so easy to be sucked into the ‘pink princesses for girls’ stereotype, but we try especially hard to make her feel like she is equal to her brothers and will have the same opportunities.
The Primo Toys Challenge came at exactly the right time for us so jumped at the chance to be involved.
Who are Primo Toys?
Primo Toys is a London-based educational toy company founded by Filippo Yacob and Matteo Loglio in 2013. They are probably best known for creating the Cubetto, an award-winning gender-neutral wooden robot designed to teach children how to code without screens or literacy.
A concerning statistics is that only 21% of STEM workplaces are female and just 25% of STEM graduates in the UK are female. Why do the STEM industries continue to be male-dominated? Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of manufacturing body EEF makes a very relevant point when highlighting the need for less gender-stereotyping:
All too often we see boys and girls sent down different pathways. Our children need to be allowed to explore for themselves. Part of the problem in the UK is that we force kids to specialise so early in their education, closing off opportunities.
The great thing about the Coding Girls Challenge is that it encourages girls to connect with the traditionally male-dominated STEM skills without even really realising.
Coding Girls Challenge
As part of the challenge, I ‘interviewed’ Roo, which basically meant casually dropping in the suggested questions while we were doing something else. I didn’t want her to feel under pressure and wanted her to answer the questions naturally.
Me: What do you enjoy about being a girl?
– woah, woah, woah. What?! NOTHING?! This wasn’t going to plan, and certainly wasn’t what I wanted to hear after four years of raising her to believe she can achieve anything she wants to.
Me: Nothing? Why do you say that?
Roo: I have short hair, like a boy.
Upon further questioning, it seems that because her hair is shorter than other girls at school, they tell her she has ‘boy hair’ and is seemingly inferior. Although she has mentioned this before, it is the first time she has expressed an association with negative feelings towards being a girl.
This is Roo’s hair:
I was cross that my daughter was being assessed by the length of her hair. I tasked Google with finding some successful women with short hair – proper short hair, not ‘short hair’ like Roo – to show her that it really didn’t matter.
There are loads. It was dominated by actresses and singers (Rihanna, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Audrey Hepburn) but when looking further afield there were icons such as Emmeline Pankhurst and the Queen. Even Dame Judith Hackitt, as quoted above, and the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova make the list (perfect for STEM-related inspiration).
Although Roo didn’t know who most of them were, I felt it was important to talk to her about them all. I then left it a few days, discussed it with Mrs Three Time Daddy, and we started to subtly drop references to successful women into conversations and what their achievements were, and then tried again.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Roo: Mmmm. A doctor.
Me: A doctor, wow. Why?
Roo: Because I want to help people feel better. I also want to be a fireman, a policeman, an astronaut, and a teacher. But mainly a doctor.
Me: Which woman inspires you the most?
Roo: My teacher.
Roo: Because she teaches me things. And helps me read.
Me: What do you know about computer coding?
Roo: *Blank face*
Me: Do you like playing Minecraft?
Me: What do you like doing?
Roo: Building houses and digging.
Roo loves Minecraft and constantly wants to play it with her older brother. I used to wonder if she was too young, and although she can’t do the more complex aspects of the game such as use Redstone or crafting, she can still sit and explore for ages, build little houses and dig all sorts of tunnels.
We had also taken part in some of the activities from the Primo Toys coding for kids ebook.
Me: What activity did you enjoy the most?
Roo: Simon Says.
Roo: Because I made you do silly things!
Roo rarely gets caught out at Simon Says. It is a game we have often played before with her but I hadn’t associated it with coding and the logic of algorithms before. After reading the Primo Toys ebook, it made sense – Simon Says is based on unambiguous logic, and if the instruction ‘Simon Says’ is excluded, the code hits an error and breaks. She had lots of fun getting me to jump up and down, grinning, with my knees bent and my hands in my pockets, all at the same time.
We also tried the ‘Robot Parent’ activity as well, but rather than make jam on toast as suggested in the ebook, Roo instructed me on how to make Yorkshire puddings (which I needed to do for Mother’s Day Sunday Dinner after all). She had a good guess at the process and order that the ingredients had to be mixed together, and despite a couple of initial mix-ups with the order of things, they made it into the oven and tasted delicious.
The activities showed us how much fun coding could be, as well as how it is an important skill to have in everyday life. I want Roo to feel empowered and have the opportunity to be involved in it if she wants to.
I felt optimistic and asked her again:
Me: What do you enjoy about being a girl?
Me: *internally screams* Why nothing?
A shrug! A shrug was progress!
Me: Do you think boys are better than girls at anything?
It wasn’t a simple ‘No’. It was a slightly confused and incredulous ‘Why on Earth would they be?’ sort of no. And then it dawned on me: maybe she was struggling to find something she enjoyed about being a girl because to her (if she ignored the comments about her hair) there was no difference between boys and girls? Isn’t that what being gender-neutral is all about?
And with that I ended the questioning and gave her a big hug, even though Simon didn’t tell me to.
(Although I was invited to be involved in the Coding Girls campaign by Primo Toys, this post is not sponsored and there are no affiliate links.)