It’s the time of year when the mailbox starts filling up with catalogues. At the Free-Ride house, many of these are catalogues featuring “educational” toys and games. Now, some of these toys and games are actually pretty cool. Others, to my mind, are worse than mere wastes of money.
For your consideration, three “science” kits targeted at girls:
Archimedes got scientific insight from a bathtub, but he wasn’t required to wear eye-makeup to do it.
The kit offers itself as a way “to cultivate a girl’s interest in science” through the making of “beauty products like an oatmeal mask, rose bath balm, and aromatherapy oils”. Besides the “natural and organic materials” to concoct said products, the kit includes “a booklet that explores how scents affect moods and memories.”
Don’t get me wrong — there is science worth discussing in this neighborhood. But, the packaging here strikes me as selling the need for beauty product more emphatically than any underlying scientific explanations of how they work. Does a ten-year-old need an oatmeal mask? (If so, why only ten-year-old girls?) Also, I’m nervous that the exploration of scents and “aromatherapy” may be setting kids up as easy marks for health food grocers and metaphysical bookstores who will sell them all manner of high-priced, over-hyped, essential-oil-containing stuff.
Maybe the Barbie-licious artwork is intended to convey that even very “girly” girls can find some element of science that is important to their concerns, but it seems also to convey that being overtly feminine is a concern that all girls have (or ought to have) — and, that such “girly” girls couldn’t possibly take an interest in science except as a way to cultivate their femininity.
Our exposed shoulders tell you that you can do these activities without being a tom-boy!
Aimed at a slightly younger audience (of “young ladies-in-training”) than the last kit, this one promises to teach girls “the chemistry behind” perfumes. Setting aside my skepticism about how much real engagement with chemistry one is likely to get from a kit like this, notice that the catalogue blurb starts with the claim that “Everyone should have a ‘signature scent’!” The hell?! My seven-year-old’s signature scent is soap, thank you very much. Does the benefit of teaching a kid a little bit of chemistry outweigh the cost of convincing a little girl that she ought to smell like something other than a young human?
(And where are the boys here? Aren’t they supposed to be grooming boys to want to buy fragrances, too? Here’s a conjecture for the field operatives to explore further: Males are sold fragrances as a way to render females helpless to the males’ sexual magnetism, whereas females are sold fragrances as a way to smell acceptable. Plus, boys just naturally dig science, whereas girls just naturally dig laboring under the weight of gender roles.)
Would these products make me feel as pretty without those little tubes and pots?
Here’s another — substantially pricier kit — aiming to teach a little science through the mixing and application of “customized skin care items”, although again the assumption seems to be that only girls have skin that requires care, or that only girls need to be suckered into caring about science. Cynic that I am, I cannot help but wonder how much of the “important skin care and wellness facts” included with the essential oils, packaging, and instructions is devoted to actual science as opposed to cultivating an unnecessary beauty regimen.
Given that this kit “teaches them to make shampoos and shower gels, makeup, creams and lotions from common household items” — which, presumably, one’s household may already have — what could explain the high price of this kit ($60)? My bet is on the little pots and tubes and squeeze bottles — which is to say, on the part that has nothing at all to do with the quality of the skin care product, and everything to do with making you want to buy it when you see it in the store.
But surely, this kit really is intended to cultivate an interest in science rather than train new generations of consumers, right?
Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to make a girl in grade school question whether she’ll have any interest in or aptitude for science than to present her with a “science for girls” kit. The message seems to be, “Look, there’s a bit of science that will interest even you. (And go put on some lipstick!)” Heaven knows, we couldn’t even get girls interested in building Rube Goldberg machines, or launching water-rockets, or studying the growth of plants or the behaviors of animals, or blowing stuff up.
Moreover, it seems to me a kid could explore some of this same scientific territory without coughing up $60, or even $25. As a place to start, check out the American Chemical Society’s kids’ website. It has a set of activities around smell, including one about the relation between smell and taste, and one about conditions in which smell molecules can get up in your nose. As far as the connection between scents and moods or memories, most households with kids come equipped with a wide variety of items that smell. Assemble some of them, use a bandana as a blindfold, record some observations with paper or a tape-recorder, and draw some preliminary conclusions — that right there is empirical science at a reasonable price.
As well, there are activities to do with soap and detergent. This includes the activity Suds or Duds?, about what influences sudsing ability. The most exotic ingredients required for this are Epsom salts and Ivory soap.
There are plenty of activities with other focuses, too, and they strike me as blissfully ungendered.
- Celebrating Chemistry & Art
- Chemistry Keeps Us Clean!
- Earth’s Atmosphere and Beyond!
- Health and Wellness!
- The Joy of Toys
- Your Home–It’s All Built on Chemistry
Most kids I know will find at least one of these angles interesting.