Many thoughtful parents and children are concerned about our decision to market separate Boy and Girl Science kits. Here are some frequently asked questions and our answers to them.
ARE WE 'PUTTING OFF' GIRLS?
We have about 21 products nominally designed for a girl audience, 6 for a boy audience and 17 more or less genderless.
So that tells you we actually have a huge, smart and feisty ball-busting bunch of WILD girl scientists out there. The biggest girl following in all science kit providers we believe.
ARE GIRL KITS 'GIRLY GIRLY'?
Look a little deeper and you'll see that girls can make Bouncing Slime, Rat¡¦s Gizzards and Flowery Fart Putty (which is in the Perfume Kit!!) as preludes to their own fugues of inventiveness and creativity. We ask all the kids: girls and boys to take risks, be brave, believe their own experiences, question everything, create and share knowledge, test and test again. And the boys can make gorgeous Rainbow Icicle Trees, perfumed goo and more. But underlying the seeming frivolity is deep, deep science. In fact almost all the products are based on similar concepts, but we theme the names, stories and initial explorations differently, as sisters and brothers often want different kits. We'll come to that later.
WHY BOY AND GIRL KITS WHEN THEY COULD ALL BE SCIENCE KITS?
1 'Findability'. Starting in 1997, and for three years onwards, all our kits were gender neutral. We used green background boxes. The public that found the kits, loved them once they had used them.
But most buyers complained
a) they did not know if the kits were 'for them', meaning 'for boys or for girls'.
b) why did we 'hide' the kits away!! Major retailers ¡¥hid¡¦ the kits because they had no easy-to-find category or home for the kits. NOTE: About 60% of our kits were bought then by or for girls before 2000. Now it is even higher.
Thus we had parents and kids asking why we did not make it clear whom the kits were for. And secondly, we had retailers not having a 'home' for the kits, pressing us to FLAG the kits for boys or for girls, so they can find a home.
2 Why not put them in the SCIENCE section?
We are already there in specialty stores, but in larger practice that does not solve the issues above. Plus, our mission is to bring science to the kids and adults that would NOT visit the science section in specialty stores.
All our biological kits tend to be Green - gender neutral, and thus tend to be confined to small specialist shops. Our mission is 85% bigger than the science section, it is to reach the unconverted kids who already 'hate' or are not interested in science. Marketing to the converted does nothing to convert! Thus we need to talk to boys and girls.
3 WHY Pink and Purple in Big stores? WILD Girls have no trouble finding the kits there. They also know that the science inside is 'edgy and grungy'. The pink and purple is like the icon of a woman in a skirt signifying 'ladies toilet'. Rarely do jeans wearing extreme skydiving women complain about skirt-stereotyping in a mall toilet sign. Or a green light signifying go on a highway. But colour iconography and psychology is another science worthy of discussion.
4 Why Unscientific Titles? Some hard line scientists ask why we do not use names such as 'Electrical science', or 'Acid Base Science' as more realistic and direct science names? This falls into our 'schoolishness' and science-centricity issue. We found that such an approach narrowed the appeal to just the geeky and already converted ( BTW we are geeky and already converted). Plus it made the kits sound like school. Plus it misses out on our drive to introduce real invention and creativity into the science process for kids ( so sadly lacking in many school science classes). The majority of our buyers are regular mums uncles and aunties. Why not dads? This is a good question and it is a complex answer still being researched. About 85% of the adult public admit to negative feelings towards their science education (USA UK and Australian research). Particularly women who report they themselves had negative experiences in science classes but nevertheless realize scientific literacy is important for their own kids, and thus have very mixed feelings when buying a kit. We must use our messaging to help them get past those feelings, plus deliver the exciting 'non schooly' experience promised inside.
5 Are Boys and Girls missing out on each other¡¦s experiences?
By flagging kits along gender lines, we can double our product variety! Yes, most of the Workshops, Labs and Factory kits have girl versions and boy versions. This is a practical, commercial win, plus a win for brothers and sisters as we can double the range of activities using the same 'ingredients' and same scientific concepts. But we change the names and themes, and we do not duplicate the challenges - we create new ones. Girls still have more kits in the range than boys, yes they do the same HARD SCIENCE too, but it is getting more even. Boys do say about a girl kit 'yuck its for girls'. Girls tend not to say the opposite, so the WILD! world is bigger for girls so far. Currently boys are missing out mostly on Cosmetic Sciences. These feature organic chemistry, skin health and biology ¡V ABSOLUTELY NOT make up or fashion. When enough boys get their act together and admit they are interested, we are ready. Yes we do have a Physics and Chemistry kit ¡V nominally in the boy¡¦s category. Girls do nearly all of it ¡V and it will change anyway
In all our feedback over 15 years or so we have found WILD! Science boys and WILD! Science girls to be questioning, thoughtful, inquisitive, determined, limitless, courageous, and funny individuals. Not pink or blue! Very far from the impressionable young minds we fear will be subverted by the implied hidden curriculum. The 'colours' and our adult-fears of stereotyping just did not stick, if they had any real meaning in the first place. A great deal of educational research has shown similar outcomes in intentional gender-neutral educational environments compared to laissez faire or stereotyped environments. Ultimately, kids are much smarter and much less impressionable than we think. Even tho' at a young age they seem to have distinct preferences which we seem to reinforce. Evolutionary psychologists have a lot to say about this.
7 WHAT DO WE KNOW?
We try to stay constantly abreast of scientific and educational research into gender and stereotyping issues. Our writers and advisors are all parents, including university method lecturers, zoologists, educational psychologists and front line researchers in both school and institutional learning and unstructured/natural learning. Our educational paradigm is ahead of the curve - contributing to research in authentic pedagogy, leading in constructivism etc.
Sadly the issue is being where kids can find us. We can follow a paradigm of proactive neutrality and thus become invisible and unsustainable. Great in schools with captive audiences, but not in mass market - yet.
8 WHAT DO YOU KNOW?
If you haven't actually checked what is inside one of our products, please take a leap and do so! Check the messages on the back of the box, and read one of the Inspiration booklets ( especially maybe the Cosmetic Science kits) and DO the activities. We think you'll be surprised.
We suspect this may not completely satisfy your concerns. But it may at least explain why we do what we do. And yes, we never ignore critical inputs, to the contrary we value them immensely.