STEM toys
Caption: Experts warn that we should not limit the imagination of girls and boys. (Photo: iStock)

When she was a child, Lan Jade Bernal began to wonder about the world around her. Her parents gave her a chemistry set, science books, and took her to interactive museums. This made her passion for investigation grow. She now holds a degree in Industrial Chemical Engineering from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN).

“As I grew older, my curiosity to understand the world around me increased. My interest was fueled by women like Marie Curie or Julieta Fierro. When I learned a little about their stories, I began to admire them and I started wanting to follow in their footsteps,” she says. She is part of the Alejandra Jáidar Association of Women in Science and Technology (AMCyT).

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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

That chemistry set, like other toys of that type, aims to help boys and girls get interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). They hope to inspire them so that (later on) they will study degrees related to these subjects.

Unlike educational toys, STEM toys recreate situations that are very similar to real life. For instance, they replicate the building of structures, formulas, and plant cultivation.

We asked Bernal about the toys that bring girls closer to STEM degrees. She responded that she believed the imagination should not be limited.

“I remember going to the store and seeing a game that was ‘for boys’. They didn’t buy it for me. If you have children or cousins and want to buy them a toy, don’t limit them. Children can play with anything and imagine a thousand things,” says Bernal.

And do STEM toys work?

Although STEM toys exist, one of the biggest problems is the gender gap between boys and girls. That is to say, the existence of stereotypes that are linked to each toy.

Haydée Valdés González, a Doctor of Chemical Sciences, wrote on the Scientific Culture Notebook portal about scientific toys designed for girls.

She criticizes that, under the philosophy of empowerment, some companies are designing and selling new toys but they want to make them more striking using colors like pink and purple.

“They deal with topics such as makeup, perfumes, soaps, and candles which are usually associated with the female world. These toys are by no means exempt from controversy as it could be said that they perpetuate gender stereotypes,” wrote Valdés.

Only 35% of the students enrolled in STEM degrees are women. According to UNESCO data, 15% of engineering graduates, 19% of computer science graduates, and 38% of mathematics graduates worldwide are women.

Tec de Monterrey is also working on the inclusion of more women in STEM degrees. It does this through the Patrones Hermosos (Beautiful Patterns) program. Through immersive workshops and hands-on activities, the Tec has helped nearly 2,000 middle and high school students aged 13-17.

So far, 78 female instructors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another 350 researchers from Mexican universities have participated in the program. By 2025, the initiative estimates that it will have had a positive impact on one million young women.

What options are there?

When you type the words “STEM Toys” into the Amazon Mexico search engine, the page returns more than 3,000 results. You can see building structures, chemical experiments for children and boxes to build robots. The result is superior to that found in Mercado Libre. There are solar cars, assembly vehicles, and boxes with parts to assemble different vehicles.

Companies like National Geographic sell products like a plant germination kit, an exploration kit, metal detectors for kids, and a canister that works like a microscope for observing tiny creatures. Meanwhile, LEGO has cars powered by balloons and robots with which basic programming concepts can be learned.

Entrepreneurs

However, smaller companies are also committed to marketing these types of toys. In Mexico, the Kuriakon sales platform displays the products of the educational robotics company Engino and Brickids, a microfranchise of building blocks for boys and girls between the ages of five and 12.

Other options are the Skyrail marble circuits from the Quercetti company. These are large structures that can be assembled which are transparent, allowing children to follow where the balls go.

Nancy B’s is another company that wants to foster an interest in biology and botany. The kit includes two baskets of seeds, flasks with thermometers, and a book with suggested activities, information, and experiments related to hydroponics.

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