The influence of science games

This year, Sinterklaas did not come to Holland on a steamer, but on an airplane full of parcels. Of course Pieten lost the presents, but it looks like they will find them in time and this evening of the package can go on as usual. Does it matter what kind of presents Santa puts in the bag on December 5th? Can games help children develop certain skills or even encourage them to choose a particular education later on?

Sociologist Maikki van der Vleuten thinks so and suspects that gender stereotyped games play a role. “I looked at ideas about typical behavior for boys and girls,” says van der Vleuten, who earned his Ph.D. from Utrecht University and is now affiliated with Stockholm University in Sweden. “Gender stereotyped toys can confirm or encourage ideas from an early age about what constitutes ‘right’ behavior for boys and girls: Boys should ‘play with cars, girls should’ play with dolls. We know that ideas about what is ‘appropriate’ behavior for boys and girls, So-called gender norms can influence study choices Well, I’m not saying that gender stereotyped games explain gender differences in study choices – so far no direct evidence has been found for this – but that it could be a drop in the bucket of assertive behaviors The sex roles children inherit, which ultimately influence their choice of schooling.

Disney Princess

“Reducing the distinction between boys’ and girls’ toys can actually lead to girls’ interest in training in the technical sector,” says Bill Dirks, professor of sociology and organizational psychology at Utrecht University, in an article on the Sociale Issues website. . Dirks writes that fewer girls choose technical study—as well as fewer boys who choose elementary education or care training—partly because of our tendency to systematically treat boys and girls differently from birth.

Marketing can play a major role in breaking down gender stereotypes. “Just look at frozen says Van der Vleuten. This cartoon has really made a difference. Elsa is framed very differently from previous Disney princesses, which means that many boys suddenly became interested in the movie and wanted to be her. A year ago, LEGO had tweaked its marketing strategy, though it’s still too early to say if it actually helps.”

Breaking down gender stereotypes

The Lego set of astronomer Nancy J. Roman, also known as the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.

From now on, the Danish toy manufacturer shows boys and girls in product images, and plots the ratio in male and female small figures more egalitarian, and occupations are no longer classified as male or female. With this, LEGO wants to contribute to breaking gender stereotypes.

Research conducted by LEGO on nearly seven thousand children aged six to fourteen and their parents in six countries shows that much remains to be done in the field of gender stereotypes. For example, parents seem to particularly encourage boys to do so-called science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. Sciences, techniques engineering And the Maths). For example, parents are four times more likely to encourage boys to play coding games than girls (80 versus 20 percent).

Five female NASA scientists have been immortalized by LEGO as miniature form .

specific skills

International research has shown that certain games can help develop certain skills. “Not only Lego, but also K’nex, and blocks and puzzles, for example, contribute to spatial intelligence and abstract thinking,” says Van der Vleuten. “And let it be those gifts that we give the boys a lot. So they play with that more, which can give them a head start in those areas.”

However, in order to develop inquiry-based learning skills, it didn’t seem to matter whether or not Santa’s bag was full of tech and science toys. At least in young children between the ages of 4 and 6. Research by Joep van der Graaf and Jo van Schaik, both assistant professors at the Institute for Behavioral Sciences at Radboud University Nijmegen, seems to indicate this. Among other things, they look at the impact of the home environment on young children’s science skills. “It’s an ongoing investigation, so I can’t draw firm conclusions yet,” confirms van der Graaf. “It remains speculation, but the materials available at home don’t seem to matter.”

Experimental young children

“We defined the children’s home environment in terms of science and technology,” explains van der Graaf. For this, we asked parents what science-related toys they have at home. Think Lego, programming toys, a chemistry box, Freek Vonk things like a magnifying glass and a children’s atlas. We also stripped down the scientifically colorful excursions they take, like visiting NEMO. We linked the results in this questionnaire to preschoolers’ performance on tasks that measure science skills.”

Van der Graaf went into groups 1 and 2 with a ramp and let young children set it up and experiment with it. He also looked at how good they were at drawing conclusions from the maps with the clues drawn on them. The amount of material in the home did not seem to affect inquiry-based learning skills. “The way children play seems to matter,” van der Graaf adds. “Inquiry-based learning works best when the initiative is in the hands of the child, but the parent is there to support and guide them. The balance tends toward child-directed play.”

Allowing the child to take the lead while playing and directing as a parent works best for inquiry-based learning.

Flag image

Van der Graaf expected to find a connection between science-related subjects at home and science skills. “Perhaps parents’ perception of science differs from how we measure science skills,” he suggests as a possible explanation. “For example, we don’t measure whether children in a white lab coat can combine two mixtures, but whether they can systematically set up an experiment.”

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Play with a science twist

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‘It’s just a game’

Additionally, the relationship between a game and a particular skill is complex to measure. “This is more apparent with books and reading skills, for example, because they have a one-to-one relationship,” says van der Graaf. There are many factors that influence the toys a child plays with. It also raises the question of what is cause and effect. Some children may have an innate ability that draws them into certain games. Playing with this can strengthen that skill again. Take a child with good spatial vision who thus chooses Lego, who improves his spatial insight by building with Lego bricks.

“It is difficult to measure the exact relationship between gaming and study choice, because it can be influenced by cognitive abilities and gender norms,” ​​van der Vleuten adds. “You actually have to follow the kids for a very long time for that. Many connections have been shown, so it seems unlikely that there is no connection at all. But future research should confirm that.”

variety show

“Although we didn’t find any association in our research, of course scientifically relevant games can’t do any harm,” Van der Graaf puts the record straight. So this Sinterklaas bag can simply be filled with gifts. Van der Vleuten stresses the importance of variety. “Introduce both boys and girls to all forms of play.”

For those who could use some gift-giving inspiration, NEMO Kennislink editors rounded up the tips:

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Jirout, J. & Newcombe, N. (2015), The Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills: Evidence from a Large, Representative US Sample, psychology Full of. 26 (3): 302-310.

Nath, S. & Szücs, D. (2014), Structuring Play and Cognitive Skills Related to the Development of Mathematical Abilities in 7-Year-Old Children, Learning and education 32: 73-80.

Weisgram, ES (2022), Sex, play, and play: How early experiences of gender shape later development, Gender and sexual development: 207-232.

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