Some of the best guidelines for working with young girls came from a Girls Inc. project called Teaching Smart:
- Help girls get past the "yuck" factor. Science is messy, so put aside your desire for clean girls and surfaces. Girls who are afraid of getting dirty aren't born that way
--they're made. In after-school science programs, girls all over the nation are being encouraged to get messy, explore, analyze, dissect, hypothesize and make mistakes. (In middle school, when girls begin disappearing from the science track, single-sex science activities help them embrace the messiness and uncertainty of science, away from boys who tease them and hog computers.) As an adult, you can help girls resist the pressure to behave in "feminine" ways. Encourage them to get good and grubby --to dig in a riverbed, change a tire or explore an engine. Let them learn they have a right to be themselves.
- Let girls make big, interesting mistakes. Girls who are overly protected in the lab or on the playground have few chances to assess risks and solve problems on their own. If teachers are doing things right, once-dreaded mistakes become hypotheses. Girls are urged to go back to the drawing board to figure out why their newly assembled electric door alarm doesn't work or why their water filter gets clogged. (Teachers tend to push boys, but not girls, past their initial frustration on such projects.) Supported by adults instead of rescued, girls learn to embrace their curiosity, face their fear and trust their own judgment.