“How’d you get into that?”

“What made you decide to pick that major?”

“Really? You’re an engineer? You don’t look like an engineer.”

Just a few of the various responses I get when I respond to the question, “So what do you do?” The last one is my favorite, of course.

Normally I answer back something like, “my parents raised me with math and science,” and end the conversation there. But the truth is that such a short answer is a disservice to girls everywhere. Why? Because the reason I chose engineering is so simple that parents everywhere should be giving their girls this option from a young age also:

Toys made me an engineer.

Sounds a little crazy, right? Could it really be that simple? I say yes.

If we were to go back in time to I’m-not-telling-how-many years ago and look at my childhood bedroom floor, you’d see a jumbled mess of Legos, Erector Sets, K’Nex, and Capsela toys. I had dolls too, but they were mostly duct-taped to remote control vehicles I built… the perfect test dummies. I was constantly taking apart electronics to see what was inside. I usually left them in pieces, but rather than lose their patience, my parents encouraged this explorative behavior.

I learned to create, to build, and to discover. I learned I was capable of innovative thinking, and I learned how to turn ideas into actions.

There was never talk of boys’ toys versus girls’ toys. They were toys. I was presented with all of the options and allowed to explore the possibilities as I pleased. What resulted was a mind trained to constantly seek new challenges and a heart filled with a love for hands-on learning and creating.

That’s what led me to love science and math classes. It’s what led me to choose engineering as a major. It’s what gave me the courage to start my own startup while doing everything else a student and full-time stay-at-home mom has to do.

The encouragement I received shouldn’t be hard to come by. Parents need to know that their children -girls included- are capable of amazing things. As for the toys? These days there are SO many options to keep kids engaged in hands-on tech learning. Need ideas? Here are a few to get you started:

  • Snap Circuits — Think Legos but for fully working circuit boards. It’s cool.
  • Bedtime Math — For the kid that would take any excuse to stay up late.
  • Hexbugs — Cool little robots that introduce the idea of sensors.
  • LEGO Mindstorms EV3 — Not for the faint of heart (or pocket), but an amazing build-your-own fully functional robot set.
  • Wedgits — Nearly indestructible plastic peices that can be ‘wedged’ together to create almost anything.
  • GoldieBlox — If your girls really loves dolls and hasn’t learned to love science yet, these are great for introducing concepts.
  • Erector Sets — A throwback to my childhood days. LOVE these. Something about the metal makes it seems so real!
  • LittleBits — These aren’t just for kids. LittleBits are snap-together pieces of circuits, sensors, wires, and more. Everything you need to build anything you can think of.

There are so many amazing hands-on toys out there that every kid can find something that will introduce them to science, tech, engineering, and math in a way that they will truly love. It’s just up to us parents to make it happen!

Here’s to creating and exploring with a whole new generation of female founders, makers, and engineers.