Want to Raise a Rocket Scientist? 20 Holiday Gifts to Give Girls a Head Start

12/09/2016 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2016

Co-authored by Kara Sammet

If you’re like us, you’re on a mission to empower girls to be the leaders and creators of tomorrow, by encouraging them in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) today. STEM offers girls limitless opportunities to design and develop the technology we’ll all use in the future – whether we’re traveling to Mars or saving planet Earth. So, we’ve sought out fun holiday gift ideas that support girls’ creativity, confidence and leadership as they change the world through STEM.

The trick to selecting great STEM gifts for girls is to expose them to lots of new opportunities, watch for what sparks their interest, and then find ways to reinforce and grow that spark into a flame. Research shows that social encouragement from parents, peers and other caring adults is a key variable to girls’ interest in STEM. And, importantly, that encouragement does not need to come from someone with a STEM background!

So encourage the girls in your life with one or more of these ideas that we hope will generate fun within your family and spark a girl’s interest in becoming a product engineer, computer scientist, or CEO of a tech startup. We also hope that these ideas will bring you closer to a girl—that they will give you time to be and learn together.

Reads to Inspire

We take our cue from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who advocates to help girls achieve great things by making reading a delight. Imagine if every girl had the chance to read one of these stories and discover a role model to inspire her dreams and expand her horizons. We also know that having books on a budget are important. So, if your girl doesn’t already have a library card, that’s a great place to start.

1. New Moon magazine is by girls, for girls ages 8-14. The magazine features STEM activities, role models, book reviews, crafts, advice column, and much more.

2. Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Lauri Wallmark. This book tells the story of Ada Lovelace who wrote the world's first computer program and overcame struggles to pursue her interests in math and science.

3. Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. This story celebrates the achievements of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—African-American women working at NASA, who supported the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The movie, Hidden Figures, is coming to theaters January 6, 2017.

4. Magnificent Minds by Pendred Noyce. Through photographs, timelines, and artifacts, Noyce brings the stories of 16 truly magnificent women in STEM careers to life.

5. Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleight, shares the story of the first person to ever successfully map the ocean floor.

6. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty. This book introduces the idea that engineering is a fun pursuit and celebrates creativity and perseverance.

7. Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape by Danica McKellar. Hollywood actress and math whiz Danica McKellar shatters the “math nerd” stereotype and offers tips to master geometry, homework, and tests.

Toys and Tech that Teach Girls to Make and Create

8. GoldieBlox challenges gender stereotypes with the world’s first girl engineer character. Through the mix of storytelling and STEM, GoldieBlox offers toys, books, and apps to empower girls and build skills and interest.

9. LEGOS aren’t just for boys. Whether you decide on a set designed with girls in mind or one of the other themes, LEGOS offers countless hours to design, build, and learn. A new LEGO set, Women of NASA, is in review at LEGO and results will be shared shortly.

10. littleBits are easy-to-use electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets and allow kids to design and build electronics. They are open-ended and great for use across different ages and experience levels.

11. Roominate combines building, circuits, design, crafts, and storytelling. With kits that teach problem-solving and spatial skills, its inventors--Angela Brooks and Bettina Chen--are on a mission to inspire more girls to find a passion like they have for engineering.

12. Snap Circuits are a simple and safe introduction to how circuits work. These kits include everything a girl will need—speakers, snap wires, LEDs, lamp sockets, and motor—to make fun projects like digital voice recorders, AM radios, burglar alarms, and doorbells.

13. Tools are cool! Surprise a girl with her very own Around the House Tool Set that includes hammer, pliers, measuring tape, level, and screwdrivers. Be sure to add in some goggles, and, of course, the indispensable duct tape. Find a kid-friendly project to jumpstart working with tools, learning safety, and discovering how much fun it is to build.

14. Yellow Scope was created by scientists and moms who turned their passion for science, girls, and education into this company. Check out their fun science kits for girls and do your own chemistry project at home.

15. A telescope and Night Sky playing cards make a stellar gift pair for any girl getting ready to be a rocket scientist. Together you’ll learn about "what's up" in the night skies and identify planets, stars, and constellations.

Time to Tinker, Code and Learn Together

Sometimes the best gift you can give a girl isn’t a shiny new toy. Instead, it’s the gift of time exploring and learning along with you. Create a simple homemade gift certificate and let your girl know that you are going along with her on her great STEM journey!

16. Spend a day at a museum. Take a break from screen time and make time to create new memories. From interactive exhibits to hands-on projects, science and tech museums offer a chance to connect and share a common experience. Many museums offer special days where families can visit for free and programs that provide access at reduced rates. Check out the Association of Science-Technology Centers to find a center in your community.

17. Unplug and spend a day in nature. Plan a hike in a neighborhood park or national forest and bring binoculars if you have them and your keen powers of observation to look at flora and fauna and appreciate the quiet time together.

18. Learn to code with your girl. Your first time coding, too? Google’s Made with Code is the perfect place to learn together how fun and easy it can be to code! Code a holiday emoji who looks like you. When you’re ready to take on more, you can host a coding club for your girl and her friends with Google’s free CS First coding club guide.

19. Host a book club. Want to learn from and with your girl using of all the great STEM books you picked out for her? Pick up Lori Day’s book, Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More. Need more help picking out books and leading a discussion? Join the Girls Leadership free book club for regularly updated book suggestions and discussion questions.

20. Plan a family STEM day. Not yet ready to venture out or host a coding club? Create a family discovery day at home, using free STEM Project instructions from the Exploratorium, like this one for low-cost paper circuits, made with paper, copper tape, and LEDs. You can create light-up greeting cards, origami animals, or 3D pop-up paper sculptures. Looking for pre-made science project options? Subscribe to a monthly Kiwi Crate science kit for kids ages 3-16 delivered to you with fun, family-friendly STEM activities. And while you do, please consider taking action for girls who might benefit from your generosity of a donated book, science kit, or day at the museum. Ask for suggestions from a teacher, coworker, or organizations that host toys drives to help connect your gift to a deserving girl.

Linda Kekelis, Ph.D., is a consultant for education, research, and policy, promoting girls’ inclusion in STEM and empowering the influencers in their lives.

Follow Linda Kekelis on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaKekelis

Kara Sammet, Ph.D., is a research and design consultant for girls’ and women’s education and leadership initiatives, currently working with Google’s K-12 Education Outreach division.

Follow Kara Sammet on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KaraSammet

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