Early Gender GapFor decades, there has been a

Early Numeracy Research EssayENL1813SNathalie BonhommeTamara BarleyDecember 21, 2017 Gendered Toys are Contributing to the STEM Gender GapFor decades, there has been a disproportionate ratio of men and women working in STEM fields. STEM fields include areas of work revolving around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Statistics show that although women represent 48% of the overall workforce in the United States, they only represent half that number within STEM jobs (Economics and Statistics Administration, 2011). This is known as the STEM gender gap. Early numeracy has a great impact on this issue. Early numeracy comprises both concrete topics (such as geometry and measurement) and abstract topics (such as symbolic thinking and problem-solving). In regards to emergent numeracy development, a gender-based partiality is perhaps most evident when considering the kinds of toys young boys and girls are provided with. Toys heavily impact emergent numeracy, therefore they have an indirect impact on the STEM gender gap. Parents and educators have the power to help rectify this problem by changing the way they approach learning within the home and educational institution. This is significant because society contributes to the STEM gender gap by favouring young boys’ early numeracy skill development over that of young girls, through the vastly different toys each gender is exposed to. Granted that early numeracy is such a broad topic, it is valuable to define what this subject encompasses. Often, children are able to display early understandings of certain mathematical concepts. This would include areas such as geometry, measurement, graphing, and probability (Smith, 2001). It may seem unthinkable that a young child could acquire such capabilities, however research has indicated that children begin understanding the foundations of early mathematics at a very young age. (Canadian Child Care Federation CCCF, 2009). During early childhood, understanding comes through “physical knowledge” of the surrounding environment (Smith, 2001). That is to say, knowledge is built upon concrete experiences. For example, as toddlers gain experience in manipulating building-blocks during play, they are also gathering information about basic geometry and balance (Smith, 2001). On the other hand, emergent numeracy is not limited to the display of these very specific mathematical theories. Actually, early numeracy can be demonstrated through more abstract means such as symbolic thought and problem-solving skills (Doig, McRae, & Rowe, 2003). According to Diezman and Yelland, “…the foundational processes of mathematical literacy are representation, manipulation, reasoning, and problem-solving.” (As cited in Doig, McRae, & Rowe, 2003, p. 5-6). These are examples of practical life-skills which would support the development of early numeracy. Considering all this, a clear difference between girls’ and boys’ emergent numeracy and mathematical skills have been identified and studied. One study has shown that upon entry to kindergarten, there is no significant gender-related “math-gap” (Fryer & Levitt, 2009). That being said, this same study demonstrated that girls have fallen 2.5 months behind by grade 5 in the subject of mathematics. By grade 1, boys are already at a significant advantage (Fryer & Levitt, 2009). There are many potential factors which may cause this gap to appear, and many of these have been researched extensively. Just a few would be a lack of female role models in STEM fields, harmful stereotypes perpetuated by the media, and gendered toys (Economics and Statistics Administration, 2011; Fryer & Levitt, 2009; Francis, 2010).In particular, one of the researched causes for the STEM and mathematical achievement gap has become a real problem in recent years: gendered toys. Young children acquire much of their knowledge through play, so it is all the more important to analyse what toys they are actively engaged with (Owen Blakemore & Centers, 2005). One study entitled “Characteristics of Boys’ and Girls’ Toys” aimed to rate popular toys by their masculinity or femininity and by their educational value. Their findings demonstrated that the toys which produced the most developmental feedback were those rated either “neutral” or “moderately masculine” (Owen Blakemore & Centers, 2005). Another interesting research study analysed a list of young boys’ and girls’ favourite toys and came to some shocking conclusions. Notably, they found that the girls’ toys analysed showed “little potential leaning/skills development” (Francis, 2010). On the other hand, they found that the boys’ toys analysed were high in academic messages, technical knowledge, and constructive information (Francis, 2010). Another paper conducted at the University of Western Ontario was able to identify three more aspects of the gendered-toy issue. The author explained that boys are generally provided with more toy diversity, all while these toys “encourage exploration, manipulation, invention, construction, and… provide feedback” (Miller, 1987). Finally, the research paper identified that girls are often supplied with toys which promote “domestic activities” and “mothering behaviours” (Miller, 1987). With an array of such appalling information, it becomes clearer why girls have grown up to represent only 25% of the STEM workforce. However alarming these facts may be, there is so much that can be done to rectify the matter. Indeed, the STEM gender gap can be corrected by supporting early numeracy development for both young boys and girls. Parents and educators must step up to make any significant difference, as they are very influential to children’s early learning. Skills in early numeracy are developed through experience and exposure (Smith, 2001). At home, parents can ensure their children are exposed to educationally valuable experiences by evaluating the toys their children are playing with. Highly-gendered toys (for both boys and girls) are not ideal for cognitive and intellectual growth (Owen Blakemore & Centers, 2005). Parents can also make use of at-home numeracy programs which aim to support STEM skills for children from an early age; HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents and Preschool Youngsters) is one example of such programs (available in Canada) for parents to implement within the home (Doig, McRae, & Rowe, 2003). Teachers and educators also play a crucial part in eliminating the STEM gender gap by supporting early numeracy development. The first thing educators can do is curriculum-plan around children’s displayed interest and understandings of mathematical concepts (Doig, McRae, & Rowe, 2003). This includes making use of play-based learning strategies and Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Smith, 2001). Allowing children to play with tools such as a sandbox or water-table has the potential to greatly benefit their initial understandings of measurement. Additionally, providing an engaging and diverse block area has the potential to benefit their initial understandings of geometry. Ensuring that the classroom environment is well-prepared and well-calculated is of considerable worth (Smith, 2001). Furthermore, educators can ensure that they are effectively teaching the foundations of numeracy by keeping in mind certain philosophical concepts. These concepts would include Gardner’s 9 intelligences, Piaget’s cognitive stages of development, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and scaffolding, Bruner’s “modes”, and Dienes’ 5 levels of mathematical thinking (Smith, 2001). These learning theories can all be used to reach children at their present level of understanding, and they can help them move to more advanced levels when developmentally appropriate. Above all, it is imperative that educators and parents alike start to really believe that all children (regardless of gender) are full of potential when it comes to acquiring abilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. (Hyde, Lindberg, Linn, Ellis, & Williams, 2008)All in all, many studies have managed to detect a problem in the way society is currently approaching early numeracy. Highly gendered toys are creating a rift between young girls and boys when it comes to early mathematical achievement, and are discouraging girls from pursuing careers in this field later on in life. STEM professions would benefit greatly from having more women in its ranks, so it is essential that parents and educators work together to empower young girls to be successful in these fields. 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