Wanna get girls into science? Try telling bedtime stories about science

We all remember the stories our parents used to tell us or read to us when we were young. There were certain classics that always seemed to make it into the rotation — Grimm’s Fairy Tales, stories by Hans Christian Andersen, even the occasional fable or three. I personally have very fond memories of reading books like Goodnight MoonCorduroy and The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The fact that I still recall those stories, even years later, speaks volumes to the way those tales imprinted on me: how much they taught me, how deeply they hit me, and how they instilled a love of reading that lingers to this day.

Now, one mother is encouraging parents to switch it up a little when it comes to the stories children hear before bed. In a piece for PBS NewsHour, journalist and author Wendy Thomas Russell describes the way in which her husband, Charlie, began telling “science stories” to their 7-year-old daughter Maxine before bedtime. Russell writes, “Every night, he would tell her one science story. It could have been a story he’d read about in the morning’s paper or heard on the radio. Sometimes the stories centered on the stars and planets, sometimes on bugs or bats, sometimes on the human body. I remember there were lots of stories about new findings and experiments. The Mars rover provided a ton of fodder for their little talks. Whatever the subject, Charlie always managed to put a contemporary spin on the science, making it relevant to Maxine’s little world.” This routine had an impact. Now, two years later, Maxine loves science and always wants another story. 

Russell herself admits that she wasn’t always the best student when it came to subjects in school like math and science. She’d struggled in those areas and felt as though she couldn’t grasp certain concepts. Through her daughter’s “science stories,” however, she’s finally beginning to develop a new appreciation for subjects and ideas that never really hooked her attention before. “It has helped me to see science in real, human, big-picture terms,” she writes. “It has made me challenge myself to wrap my mind around things that always seemed unknowable.” And now, two years after the stories started, Maxine is more than eager to continue the nighttime trend.

The concept of switching up bedtime stories is something to consider. Incorporating science in a way that’s educational and interesting is bound to have an effect. And let’s face it, the world could always use more female scientists. There is still a steep disparity between the number of women who choose to pursue a career in science and their male peers (the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the number of female college grads pursuing science in 2014 was even DOWN from the number 2004). In an article for The New York Times, professor Eileen Pollack recently wrote that “[the] most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on,” and the sad reality is that many women in science continue to experience lack of support and even discrimination. Even homegrown bedtime stories might be the encouragement some girls need.

It isn’t too late to change this trend — and even if change happens slowly, it’s still happening. The next generation is making strides towards having an impact — and, according to Pollack, success for young women in math and science is completely possible as long as they have a culture supporting them wholeheartedly.

From the looks of things Wendy Thomas Russell and her husband are off to a great start. Maybe more parents should take a page out of their bedtime books.

[Featured image via Shuttershock.]