12/03/2013 03:55 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2014

Before You Make Your Shopping List for the Holidays: Consider the Message Your Gift Sends to a Girl

A toy catalog arrived with Sunday's paper. I have three nieces, ages 3-9, and am looking for holiday gifts that will empower them. As founder of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls to change the world through science, technology, and engineering I am interested in toys that help girls imagine all the possibilities for their futures.

Do all girls like pink? Do all girls want to play princess and be rescued by a prince? I am passing on the pink and getting science and tinkering toys for my nieces. I've seen how toys like these can turn a girl on to a new interest and even a lifelong passion for science or engineering.

In my job, I meet girls who encounter stereotypes that influence how they think about their futures. Techbridge challenges these gender stereotypes with after-school programs where girls get to use power saws, soldering irons, and 3D printers that transform ideas into take-home projects. In the process girls get to try out new skills and try on new identities. Often we hear from girls that they didn't know that they would like to use tools or design and build. The story is similar with parents. They never considered that their daughters would like to play with blocks or help care for the family car. How would they know? Their daughters don't tell them. We host events for families and showcase the work of their daughters. We show-and-tell toys and games and help parents understand how they can support their daughters. Parents are grateful for the inspiration.

I would like to share these holiday gift ideas. They can generate fun at home and may spark a girl's interest in becoming a product engineer, computer scientist, or CEO of a tech startup.

• Break down stereotypes about who likes to build and include traditional favorites like LEGOS, Lincoln Logs, and erector sets on your shopping list for girls.

• Did you know that spatial skills can be improved quickly with practice? Bill and Betty Bricks include colorful wooden blocks with female and male builders along with 60 challenges. While there are gender differences in spatial skills they are relatively small and can be reduced with toys like these.

• Looking for a stocking stuffer? How about Professor C. Bodin, Lego mini figure and its first female scientist. Best yet, she's not pink and she won the Nobrick Prize for her efforts!

• Techbridge love Operation Gameboard which introduces circuits. After they study how the game works, our girls create their own electronic game boards. Doc McStuffins Operation offers a positive role model -- 6-year-old star of the animated children's television series who wants to become a doctor just like her mother.

• New offerings like Roominate and Goldie Blox are inspiring girls to discover the engineer within. Designed with girls' interests, these toys dispel stereotypes and celebrate tinkering and design.

• Mousetrap is a fun game that plays with simple machines. After you play the game, you can make your own simple machine with recycled materials.

• Tools, tools, tools! How about a hammer, saw, screwdriver, and goggles to equip the handy girl in your life? Next time there's a need to repair a household appliance or get under the hood of a car, she will be ready for the challenge.

• With so much technology in our lives, it's great to sit back and spend time reading books together as a family. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty introduces girls to the wonders of engineering and conveys the lesson that failures can be opportunities. You can find more books with strong female role models at A Might Girl.

• Check out Science: It's a Family Affair which offers science and engineering activities using simple household materials.

• Make a coupon book for special days. Get creative and dream up experiences and create memories that will last long after the toys are put away. Wondering what you might offer? Your time and attention will make any experience special. With their interactive exhibits and hands-on projects, museums and parks offer a place to connect and share.

After you find gifts for the girls in your life, I hope you will think about the girls who might not have someone thinking about them this holiday season -- girls who get their holiday presents from a toy drive or at a shelter or girls who might not be on someone's gift list. This year, let's remember one of these girls and offer her a toy that empowers her and expands her options.