Plus other toys that can help your kids get into science, math and engineering
Getting more girls into STEM isn’t rocket science – you just need to fire up their imaginations.
That’s the mission behind American Girl’s new 2018 Girl of the Year, Luciana Vega, who wants to be the first person on Mars. The Mattel-owned toymaker debuted the aspiring astronaut doll on “Good Morning America” last week before a group of girls dressed in official NASA flight suits.
“I really like that she’s an astronaut and that she’s trying to inspire people,” one kid told “GMA.”
American Girl teamed up with an out-of-this-word advisory board, including NASA’s former chief scientists Dr. Ellen Stofan and NASA astronaut Dr. Megan McArthur Behnken, to make their first STEM-themed character’s story and product line as accurate as possible. Luciana is an 11-year-old who wins a scholarship to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. So American Girl editors and product designers visited Space Camp and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to see a day in the life of a trainee, such as putting on space suits and learning the “right” way to eat in space, or conducting a mission in microgravity.
“It is so important to find exciting new ways to inspire our next generation of space explorers,” said Dr. McArthur Behnken in a statement. “I always want to encourage girls and boys to pursue their dreams, no matter how big, and I think it helps to show how those dreams can become reality for any kid.”
Luciana and her accompanying storybook series are available today, when American Girl stories nationwide host launch parties that feature interactive science demonstrations, a Moon Phase craft, galaxy-inspired treats, and more. See americangirl.com/retail.
American Girl has also launched a Blast Off to Discovery program with Scholastic, NASA and Space Gamp to get third through fifth grade students engaged in exploring space, which includes Luciana-inspired STEM-based lesson plans and classroom activities, videos and a game that will be available on scholastic.com beginning Jan. 31, 2018. Families can also enter the Mission to Mars Sweepstakes hosted by American Girl and Scholastic, going on a series of weekly missions for a chance to win prizes like a trip to Space Camp.
It pays to get boys and girls interested in science. STEM college majors had an average starting salary of $65,000, or almost 25% higher than those in non-STEM fields, according to a 2014 Department of Education report. Yet there’s still a gender gap in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. While young women in grades K through 12 participate in high-level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male classmates, and undergraduate women earned 50.3% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women only make up 29% of the science and engineering workforce.
“Luciana is a role model for today’s girls—empowering them to defy stereotypes, and embrace risks that will teach them about failure and success as they chart their own course in life—whatever the goal,” said Katy Dickson, president of American Girl, in a statement. “For us, it’s all about building girls of strong character, and it’s why we’re continuing to encourage girls to lead change and embrace #charactercounts.”
This is the latest toy giving girls the tools to explore careers in math and science. Earlier this year, Lego released a $25 “Women of NASA” collection that included astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, known as the “Mother of Hubble” (as in the space telescope); scientist Margaret Hamilton, who was the lead software designer for the Apollo 11 moon landing; and astronauts Sally Ride, who was the first American woman in space, and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. It became Amazon’s best-selling toy the week it landed.
And the $30 GoldieBlox construction toy and storybook set, which won Educational Toy of the Year and People’s Choice Toy of the Year, features a girl engineer and her dog sparking creativity and curiosity by getting kids to build a belt drive.
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