What Parents Can Do to Encourage Student Interest in Science

Especially for Girls

Sally Ride, America's first female astronaut, believes it is crucial to encourage girls who are interested in math and science.

"If you've got a daughter who expresses some interest in math and science when she's in fourth grade, you should make sure you support that," Ride says. "Point her toward software that will encourage those interests, make her feel that it's a natural thing for her to do, and a cool thing for girls to do."

Parents can point out role models of women in science and engineering so that their daughter can see that these are normal people who love what they're doing - and that not all scientists are geeks!

Ride feels so strongly about this that she has created a company encouraging girls to get involved - and stay involved - in math and science. Imaginary Lines is filled with events, programs and activities. Ride has even started a Parent-Daughter Space Camp at the Space Camp facilities in Alabama and Florida, and the Sally Ride Science Club, intended to give girls a place where they can find and communicate with role models and with other girls.

By Judy Molland

Parental attitudes are one of the most important factors in shaping children's interest in science and math, according to former astronauts John Glenn and Sally Ride.

As Senator Glenn puts it, "If parents say, 'Well, it's OK if my kid doesn't do well in math, I was no good at it either,' the child is going
to understand that he can dismiss math as unimportant."

But with predictions that eight out of 10 of the fastest-growing job categories over the next decade are related to science, math and technology, it's clear that some action needs to be taken.

For parents who want not only to spark their child's interest in science, but keep it burning, science education advocates say it's important to start early.

"Engage them young, fire up that interest, and convince them that if they really want to be an astronaut or study about Mars, then they need to pay attention to math and science while they're in school," says Glenn.

Inspiring kids in math and science can seem overwhelming to parents who never warmed up to those subjects themselves, but educators say it's as simple as actively encouraging their children to practice math and science in much the same way parents already encourage their kids to practice musical instruments.

Another former astronaut, Sally Ride, agrees.
"My parents were very involved, but neither of them are scientists," she says. "They found themselves with this daughter who was fascinated by science and - to their credit - although they didn't know much about science, they thought that if I was interested in it, that was good enough for them, and they found ways to support that."

Finding ways to support your budding scientist doesn't have to be rocket science - taking part in science fairs or guided nature hikes and visiting museums, observatories and aquariums are all ways that parents can show their kids that science is not only valuable, but fun too. In fact, what you don't know about math and science can put you and your child on a level playing field when questions arise.

Here are some tips for parents who are trying to make conversations about math and
science a regular part of their time with their kids:

  • Show interest
    in your child's activities. Listen to his or her questions.

  • Discuss activities
    before, during and after doing them. Have your child explain what he or she is doing.

  • When you ask
    a question, give your child plenty of time to respond.

  • Encourage your child
    to make predictions and comparisons and to draw conclusions.

  • Don't pretend
    that you know an answer. Show your child how to go about finding an answer.

  • Share your curiosity
    with your child. Let her see you asking questions and making observations.


Glenn reminds parents to use their school boards or committees as a resource to change the focus of math and science locally.

"That's where parents should try and make a difference," he says, pointing out that this country has 14,700 independent school boards. Glenn urges parents to contact their local school board to encourage members to take a leading role in correcting the nation's deficiencies in math and science.