Girls And Chemistry Kits

spasciencekit.jpgWhile getting my daily fix of baby-gadget blogs a few weeks ago, I came across this post over at "droolicious" discussing science kits geared to girls, such as the Spa Science Kit. The poster found such kits patronizing in that they appear to be making chemistry easier for girls, and I wholeheartedly agreed--until I thought about it a little more. The kit is targeted for nine-year-old girls. Now, if memory serves correctly, nine-year-old girls are starting to get away from the things boys are interested in--slimy, explosive, gross stuff found among traditional kid chemistry-kit fodder--and into the girly things, such as makeup and perfumes and whatnot. Maybe a spa science kit isn't patronizing, but rather a brilliant way to capture those girls who would forever be lost to chemistry in particular and science in general because they couldn't find the relevance of it. Who knows--maybe the kit will instill the inspiration needed to create the next generation of flavor and fragrance chemists? So what say you? Are perfume or spa science kits patronizing, brilliant, or something else entirely?

Author: Rachel Pepling

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  1. This reminds me of a story that ran in the NY Times a few months back that stirred a similar debate:
    That article was about a Boston museum hosting a “cosmetic science” day for fifth graders, where they made their own lipstick and nailpolish and the like. I guess I’m of two minds on this front: on the one hand, I’m for anything that will get kids (especially girls) excited about chemistry; on the other, do we need to so blatantly play into gender stereotypes? I think I’m coming down on the side of the former outweighing the gender role concerns in this case. My one caveat is that it only works if the spa kits, cosmetic science days, etc, maintain a robust level of science content (i.e. there’s an actual lesson learned as part of it), and aren’t just about being girly.

  2. I agree with Lisa. If the science is solid, and the kit teaches something useful, great! Otherwise, PLEASE opt for something cool and gender-neutral. A crystal growth kit, maybe? DIY solar cells? (Of course, I’m biased…)

  3. I am a father of four: three teenage girls and an 8-year-old boy. All three of the girls played middle school and high school sports and the oldest will be the starting goalkeeper on the Juniata College Women’s Soccer team this fall. They are aggressive on the field, get good grades, but they are also young women. Off the field they dress and talk like young women (except when they are screaming at World Cup soccer matches). We gave them dump trucks when they were little. They played in the dirt for a while, but eventually loaded their stuffed animals in the dump trucks and took them on picnics. I know there are many things that must be gender neutral to have equal opportunity, but I want my daughters to grow up to be women and my son to grow up to be a man. With all the scientific ignorance in our country, anything that gets a child interested in science is fine with me.

  4. Best not to be prejudice against girls who gravitate towards the perfume/lipstick side of life.

  5. “. With all the scientific ignorance in our country, anything that gets a child interested in science is fine with me.”

    I’m reminded strongly of the debate over Danica McKellar’s book on math that is geared towards fairly stereotypical pre-teen and teenage girls. People were pretty divided over that as well, but as mentioned above, some kids regardless of gender will like makeup, babysitting, and other activities traditionally tied to one gender or the other. If a book addresses those preferences and teaches a skill, excellent. I’m not comfortable perpetuating the behaviours, but addressing kids who have those behaviours is one tool of many that a pragmatic education should embrace, even while trying to de-stereotypify the behaviours as well.

    This is a challenge on many fronts, not just a single front.

  6. I was a part-time nanny in high school, and a total geek. I loved the girls I cared for, and I think I would have done something like this with them. I might have even done it myself, and I don’t wear makeup hardly at all. It’s a matter of meeting kids where they’re at. My mom taught me a lot about math and even chemistry by teaching me (and my brother) how to cook. Even if they never become interested in a science career and keep wearing lipstick because it looks cute, I still think it’s good to have an idea of how much science is in your everyday life. It puts all of these test tubes and lab coats into context. Just because it’s girly doesn’t mean it’s somehow “less” scientific.

  7. I’m in Lisa and psi*psi’s camp here. On my wish list for a kit like this– that it doesn’t just come with predefined recipes. It has the potential to be great if it lets kids play with formulations and proportions to figure out what they like best, or what works best. Then they could read a brochure that explains why things work the way they do afterward.

    How open ended are traditional chemistry sets? (I never owned one.)

  8. Traditional chemistry sets have pictures of men and boys on their metal boxes. At Chemical Heritage Foundation we have a huge collection of them. The one 1950s vintage chemistry set for girls came in a pink vinyl box and was a “Laboratory Technician” kit.

  9. A pink vinyl “Laboratory Technician” kit is way more egregious to me.
    I’ve decided to check out the spa kit first-hand. Stay tuned…

  10. To follow Neil’s last comment, C&ENer Linda Raber has a vintage “Gilbert Lab Technician Set for Girls,” from the 1950s in pink in her office if you care to swing by and take a peek. And I recall the fuss over the talking Barbie that said “Math is hard,” which long predated Danica McKellar’s book.

    I don’t think a spa science kit is the least bit patronizing and would at some point (probably when they’re older) get girls thinking about what goes into the makeup and skin care products they use. It might encourage better consumer behavior, too, as well as sparking an interest in science.

  11. I received the kit yesterday afternoon, and as Lisa, psi*psi, and Carmen feared, there is no robust chemistry (other than the “It’s REAL Chemistry!” on the cover). The “experiment booklet” contains mainly recipes and very few explanations of what’s going on and why. I’m sorely disappointed because the elements of a robust kit are there, but the company just didn’t follow through even though it could have done so very easily.

  12. Are you trying to say you want me to manufacture and sell chemistry sets?

  13. Sure, Mitch – in your endless stretches of spare time, why don’t you whip out a few chemistry sets?

  14. It’s funny, my daughter liked chemistry sets more than her older brother.