How to Instill an Entrepreneurial Mindset in Your Daughter Through Play
My passion for engineering began at an early age. Unlike many of my female contemporaries who played with Barbie dolls and miniature stoves, I preferred to play with chemistry sets and building kits. You see, my sisters and I were fortunate enough to grow up with parents who were not focused on what sorts of activities we should and should not engage in because we were girls.
Unfortunately this is not the case for many young girls, even today. In my new book, VentureGirls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders (HarperCollins; May 2018), I recount a recent anecdote from a dad who often plays Minecraft with his seven-year-old daughter. One day, they had some family friends over, and his daughter wanted to share her favorite game with her friend. When he brought out his laptop, the mother of the other girl looked at her daughter and said, “Oh, honey, that game is for boys, you don’t need to bother with that.”
Surely, the mother in this story made this remark without taking into consideration the social and intellectual content of the game (she probably was not even aware of it). This is an all too common theme in society today. By encouraging their daughters to play with toys “for girls,” parents are unknowingly blocking avenues for them to enhance their creativity and learn critical skills. The mother from this story surely did not realize that by preventing her daughter from playing Minecraft, she was depriving her of a wonderful opportunity to home her creative, exploratory, and organizational skills – all of which would help her become a successful entrepreneur.
What’s more, studies show that toys that are stereotyped as being “for boys” help children develop spatial relation skills that can be invaluable to their education – not to mention careers in STEM. There’s a direct correlation between an aptitude for STEM and an entrepreneurial mindset. We need to teach our girls to view math, science, and technology as useful tools to bring about innovation, rather than subjects to opt out of at the first sign of difficulty.
In order to do this, we must make STEM and entrepreneurship fun for girls. Through VentureLab, a non-profit I started in 2013, I have been able to observe – and help cultivate – the optimal environment for this to occur. By encouraging students, both male and female, to explore their interests in a setting that not only tolerates but also celebrates failure, we allow them the opportunity to become more innovative, more creative, and, perhaps most importantly, more eager to take risks.
One way to achieve this is to make playtime into “curiosity time.” A nine-year-old named Emma, who I discuss in VentureGirls, was worried that her pet mice were not sufficiently entertained by the toys in their cage. She wondered if she could design a more stimulating environment for her furry friends. What’s more, she wondered how she would be able to tell whether they enjoyed it.
Eventually, Emma came up with the idea to design and create a maze for her mice. Recognizing that this was, in effect, a small engineering project, Emma’s mom provided Emma with the tools and assistance needed to make it come to fruition. Then, once she had built the maze, Emma began to record the mice’s movement within it, and analyze the data. Suddenly, her engineering project had turned into a statistical study. So, Emma’s mom helped her with the math.
Now, Emma is planning a bioscience project to see whether genetics play a role in rodent behavior. She has already collected samples of her mice’s fur and blood, to eventually be analyzed. Now she just has to wait until the price of DNA testing is affordable enough for a nine-year-old. To some, Emma’s project may seem more like homework than playtime. However, throughout every stage, Emma was engaged and having fun. Is that not the purpose of playtime?
The vast majority of children share Emma’s intellectual curiosity. In fact, Sir Ken Robinson believes that, at five years old, 98% of children are naturally brilliant when it comes to being visionary, creative, innovative, resilient, and bold in their risk-taking. Yet societal pressures and a culture that systematically enforces the notion that “science is for boys” often discourage young women from following their entrepreneurial passions.
Rather than steer Emma in a more “feminine” direction, Emma’s mother encouraged her and helped her bring her experiment to life. She embraced Emma’s idea of fun and allowed her to pursue it further. As parents, that is one of the best things we can do for our children. Teach your children to question the world around them, so that your children will question how they can make the world a better place.
Dr. Cristal Glangchai is the author of the best-selling book, VentureGirls: Raising Girls to Be Tomorrow’s Leaders, available wherever books are sold. She is the founder and CEO of VentureLab, a nonprofit that runs experiential learning programs in youth entrepreneurship. Please visit www.venturegirls.org for more information.