By CELA on 2 Nov, 2020

STEM Storytime is a new activity for early learners and carers, presented by Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith and supported by Questacon.

We share how the project is helping to challenge gender stereotypes and how you can get involved.

By Lauren Sullivan, Project Officer, Women in STEM Ambassador

About STEM Storytime

STEM storytime invites children aged 3-6 and their carers to join an astronaut character on an interactive adventure through the stars to the International Space Station, learning about space and problem solving along the way. Children learn about what astronauts do, identify parts of a rocket, and explore objects in space like planets and space junk.

The story leads into a space helmet building activity, allowing children to connect ideas about why astronauts need to wear space suits, to designing and building a helmet out of different materials. It introduces concepts around design, properties of different materials and problem-solving.

Challenging gender stereotypes

STEM story time was developed to challenge gender stereotypes around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers through the character of the astronaut. The video and resources aim to spark conversations among carers about the STEM gender stereotypes and bias girls encounter and how we can challenge these ideas.

Awareness of gender and gender stereotypes emerges early in a child’s life, and are reinforced by toys, games, clothes, books and media, teachers and families. Gender stereotypes and bias that children encounter can affect the skills they develop, the things they learn and experience as well as how they see themselves or react to situations. Stereotypes also affect the way adults communicate with children and the activities we encourage. Gender stereotypes reinforce inequality and perpetuate disadvantage for women and girls.

Gender stereotyping is one of the barriers that affect girls’ participation in STEM. Beyond the age of six, most children identify science as a male profession. While children have become more likely to draw a woman when asked to draw a scientist, they still draw more than twice as many male scientists than female ones.

An American study of children aged between six and 10-years-old found that they already held the stereotype that “maths is for boys”. Another study found that six-year-old girls were less likely to believe that members of their gender were “really, really smart”, and they avoided certain activities as a result.

The perception that women have limited involvement in STEM and exposure to stereotypes that STEM is male-dominated can lead to a loss of interest in STEM among girls.

Parents and carers play a vital role in influencing children’s perceptions and confidence around STEM subjects and careers. The STEM storytime resources highlight the ways gender stereotypes can affect how girls participate in STEM activities and their development of STEM skills from an early age.

By being aware of and challenging gender stereotypes and bias in STEM learning in childcare settings and at home, we can ensure that children’s futures are not limited by gendered expectations.

About the Women in STEM Ambassador program

The Women in STEM Ambassador is a Government-funded initiative aimed at improving the participation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) study and careers.

Astrophysicist and author Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith was appointed as Australia’s inaugural Women in STEM Ambassador in 2018.

The Women in STEM Ambassador works with government, industry, research, academia and education and training to drive action for gender equity in STEM. The Ambassador also provides outreach and resources for educators and carers to engage girls in STEM learning, share information about career opportunities in STEM, challenge gender stereotypes and eliminate other barriers to girls’ participation in STEM.

You can watch the video and find the information for families and resources here:

If you are an educator interested in delivering STEM storytime as a workshop, please contact the Women in STEM ambassador program for more information:

+61 2 9385 5218

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Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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