One big benefit of opening a toy store is that when my kids arrive there after school, we are all stuck in the same space together and for the first time in YEARS, I get to help them with their homework! “Years?! What a horrible mother! You should have been supervising them THIS WHOLE TIME!” Yah, yah. Bite me. My kids have been better at their schoolwork than I am since 3rd grade. I gave up a while ago. However, they just started Algebra when they hit 7th grade, so we all get to puzzle it out together. This is both nice and frakking awful. Though I have internalized the mantra, “All are capable of math. There is no such thing as a ‘a math person,’ there are only those who give it a chance and those who do not,” I still struggle with some of the simpler concepts. However, now that I’m older, I do find that I can *enjoy* the struggle. Somehow, probably completely by accident, both of my daughters also seem to enjoy math and both recognize that it can be useful in their chosen “hobbies”.
MoMo (#1) is an artist. She works on paper, but is already better at digital production and reproduction of artwork than I will ever be. I have the benefit of a (slim) digital media background and have been able to give her the tools and basic education she needs to learn how to create digital masterpieces. It is a joy to watch her grow in her love of the medium. Whether she was inspired by comic books, video games, cartoons, or what, I have no idea. However, she obsessively watches YouTube videos of people drawing random things (seriously, HOURS) and is exploring the realms of Manga and Anime.
Granted, we raised her up right by forcing her to watch Studio Ghibli films on an endless loop – Clockwork Orange style.
Messy Jessy #2 is a scientist/engineer/punky brewster. Her favorite toys from about age 3+ were Magnetix. Basically, if it let her build something, she could spend hours building random shit. From simple octagons, to massive buildings with parapets and flying buttresses. Her passion is construction, so every time we found a science kit that allowed her to explore this avenue, we did so. The cavern under her bed is a treasure trove of robotics. She is the proud owner of a soldering gun and a java programming manual (seriously, would someone *please* write a java programming instructional book for kids? I’m disturbed by the lack of them).
Anyway, this past summer we were lucky enough to be able to encourage our daughters passions even further. Parents should be the first line of inspiration into math and science careers, with public schools following closely on their heels. However, it is exceedingly important that the surrounding community also offer programs that support these career paths. This not only benefits a child’s education, but it also benefits the county and city coffers. Tech businesses don’t stay in California’s Silicon Valley due to the cheap rent, they stay due to the sustainable brain capital. It’s practically splitting at the seams with generation after generation of IT workers – the 60+ year olds who founded the industries, the 40+s who turned them into powerhouses, the 20+s who spawned a new generation of web-based technologies, and the 5+s who are sitting at home on their parents I-pads, exploring technology in ways that my generation only saw in Science Fiction TV. The communities that want to capitalize on the new creative economy of the US are the ones that will institute programs that create these budding technologists.
My daughters were participating in one such program. It was a partnership between a local youth based educational initiative and a Community College in the town where my parents live. For the cost of a Youth Recreational Summer Camp, they attended what were, essentially, college classes for a week. The one week program included more classes than I can even remember and gave children the freedom to explore numerous future careers and hobbies.
MoMo took a class on digital art, which included instruction in Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop. She learned how to interact with a drawing tablet, manipulate existing images, and create original artwork. Though the teacher left something to be desired in the personality department, the class gave her the information she needed to take her art to the next level. She now wants to figure out how to animate her work and I suspect she’ll begin designing Flash games sooner rather than later.
Messy Jessy spent a week learning about different types of Engineering. With WOMEN! This was such a crucial experience for her, as it is for most young girls. Women still only account for a minimum proportion of STEM jobs, though the number of women receiving degrees in STEM fields has increased. It is difficult to say what societal pressure causes girls to not pursue math and science, but the pressure is there and so a great effort must be made to overcome it. Jess’s “Women in Engineering” course introduced the all-female class to a new field of Engineering every day of the week, hosted by a woman in each specific subset. They did projects in fields that ranged from Bio-Medical Engineering to Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Aeronautic. They touched a human heart while exploring artificial heart valves and MacGuyvered a set of Earphones. Basically, it was just frakking amazing.
Will either of my daughters choose a career that is related to the respective courses they took this summer? I have no idea. Nor do I care. As a parent, I must encourage them to follow their passions, but when they are no longer passions, I must allow them to choose another. Honestly, if there is only one thing that I learned from Science Fiction and Fantasy, it’s that choosing your own path in life is the key to happiness. However, for now, I’ll keep throwing the geek their way in the hopes that some of it sticks.