Helping your daughter feel like she has personal space to tinker at her own pace will reinforce the notion to her and to the entire family that her STEM development is important.
To start, find a spot together that she can call her own. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. It could even be an unused nook, a wall space, a closet, a foyer, a play space, or a corner. Just an area that is solely hers where she knows that her STEM ideas and activities are safe. Make sure that the entire family understands the boundaries of her space.
Even if she has her own room, your daughter needs a STEM project space to call her own that’s part of the family area of your home. Important! Oftentimes, STEM experiments can involve procedures that are barely appropriate (safety-wise) for a child’s judgment. Therefore, it’s crucial that you locate a spot in your home that is always within earshot of a responsible adult.
It should be clear that you have the final say about what space will work best. That said, try to involve your daughter in your thought process as much as possible. Make her feel included now ― you’ll be happy you did when the time comes to clean up after a messy project.
Start with the Basics
At the very least, she needs a table, a chair, a light, an electrical outlet, and a trash can. These bare necessities should be enough to lay the foundation for most STEM activities, whether it’s science-, technology-, engineering-, or math-related.
When she’s ready for more, she can customize her space to accommodate her interests. Her table could have drawers or open spaces for storage bins, there could be some kind of shelving or peg board for storing tools and project supplies.
There could be a power strip, a rolling utility tray, table-top containers, a spot for her laptop or tablet if she has her own, and a drop-cloth or plastic sheeting for messy projects.
There should also be empty space on either side of her area for future expansion as her STEM interests evolve. Pinterest is a great source for STEM project space ideas.
Make Sure She Helps
You should not set up a designated space without her help—she should be involved in every step of the process. Her involvement will not only give her a sense of ownership and independence, it will hopefully take some of the onus off you.
If she resists helping, you could tell her that you can’t set it up without her help because you don’t know exactly what kind of layout would work best for her projects. Tell her she’d be much better at designing the space than you would be (flattery still works at this age!).
Encourage her to help you with the “heavy lifting” (e.g., moving furniture, sweeping/vacuuming newly vacant spots, going with you to the store for a power strip, etc.)
As with all projects with kids, it will go much faster if she is actually helping and not creating more work along the way. If all goes well, you should be able to complete it together in an afternoon.
Once her space is established, your daughter will most likely customize it to fit her needs and personality.
As long as she doesn’t want to make any permanent structural changes to your home, let her personalize the space on her own. This is a perfect time for you to take a break and let her take over.
Encourage her to make her space functional to fit her needs. Suggest ideas for supplies that you already have at home and let her expand on your ideas.
Create a list together of future supply needs and budget guidelines. Schedule a trip to the Dollar Store together.
As with any new ownership, however, comes a new set of responsibilities. She should know that her new space comes with rules.
Let her know, gently, that it’s not OK for her to be bossy/dictatorial about her space. Yes it’s hers and hers alone but she lives in a household, not a personal cubicle. It’s also her responsibility to keep her space tidy.
The key takeaway here is that you are showing her she matters enough for you to take the time and energy to make sure she has a dedicated space for her interests. This is a great opportunity to let her know how important she is.
Trish Allison is the founder and writer of P.I.N.K. Backpack handbooks to help parents raise equality-confident girls. Visit her website at www.pink-backpack.com.