In the news yesterday was Dame Athene Donaldson, a Cambridge physics professor and new president of the British Science Association. Dame Athene believes that playing with some types of toys such as Barbie Dolls is holding girls back when it comes to pursuing careers in science and engineering. This is a subject close to my heart. My oldest is a boy and the younger two are girls and I became very aware of of how toys are marketed differently for boys and girls.  Some of the toys my girls like to play with now might not have even been introduced to them if they hadn't had a big brother! That can't be right? My first Kollector Bags were my attempt to manage all those little pieces of plastic.

Only 14% of the worlds engineers are women. There are believed to be many reasons for this, including influences from the media, lack of female role models, an outdated understanding of what an engineer actually does etc. However, one of the main reasons is believed to be that girls simply  ‘lose interest’ in science and maths from as young as 6, a fact that is often taken for granted or even expected by parents and teachers.

So if there are only a small number of female engineers that means that over 80% of the construction, technology, problem solving and engineering around us must be primarily developed by men, which makes you wonder how the world might be different if there was a greater female influence on the design and manufacture/build of so many of the things we encounter in our daily lives. Then there is the widely reported skills shortage in science and engineering that we are told ison the horizon and the fact that problem solving is a desirable quality for a wide range of employers. There seem to be plenty of good reasons to encourage boys and girls to maintain an interest in science, maths, engineering and technology throughout their childhood.

Play is crucial to how children develop and learn about the world. In education it’s recognised that children need access to a range of toys and play experiences.  Toys focused on construction and technology hone spatial skills, foster problem solving and encourage children to be active.  Boys and girls need the chance to develop in all these areas, but many toy retailers and toy manufacturers separate boys’ and girls’ toys. Construction and technology toys are predominantly marketed to boys while social role play and arts and crafts toys are predominantly marketed to girls.  Many researchers believe that both boys and girls miss out this way. So encouraging your daughter, as well as your son, to play with everything from LegoR, K’nex, or Mechano through to marshmallows and straws or den building could pay off in the long run, as well as being a great way to keep them occupied for hours in the here and now!

The thing is, in my experience, most parents try to buy the toys they believe their children are interested in. For me, I don’t necessarily want to treat all my kids the same, because they are individual, but I do want to give them a range of opportunities and not let my own unconscious bias restrict those opportunities. I suppose, there’s nothing wrong with being a princess – but its cool if you can build the castle too!