Let Them Get Messy!

Creativity is messy

Whenever women in science or technology reminisce about girlhood, they remember the joy of getting dirty. Many of us who’ve grown up to be scientists and engineers recall spending more time in jeans than in dresses. And a lot of us loved playing with mud.

My sisters and I had the great advantage of a hands-on childhood. I could get messy, dirty and greasy because the single dress I owned was strictly to be worn in church. More importantly, our dad encouraged my sisters and me to take part in all kinds of so-called “boy” activities, such as building things, changing tires, mowing lawns and even repairing the house. I learned how to lay tile, change a car battery, and I went on to fearlessly try to fix things.

By not limiting my interests, my father gave me invaluable tools that allowed me to be comfortable as the only girl in male-dominated classes—and later, in male-dominated fields. His curiosity is baked into my DNA, and that curiosity has paid off in my mindset and my career.

Curiosity naturally led me into science projects, contests, and to engage with the scientific method. With my “try, try again” approach, I needed no safety net. I was a science-smitten girl, almost oblivious to the fact that most of my fellow geeks were guys.

A common theme of women in science is that as girls, we got dirty. A lot of us spent more time in jeans than dresses. Many of us recall the fascination of playing with mud. Today’s VentureGirls are no different.

Says 9-year-old Jessie, “I love squishing mud between my fingers.” Her mother—who also loved playing in the mud as a child—has learned to suppress her parental impulse to say, “Clean up!” She understands instead that her daughter Jessie is learning by touch and observation (and by getting dirty).

As Jessie advances in science, her playing with mud will lead her to understanding such scientific concepts such as viscosity, textures, and adherence. In addition: mud is fun! And creativity is messy.

In my next post about tips to raise entrepreneurial girls, I explore tip number three: helping girls appreciate and learn from failure. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about how, and if, you encourage the girls in your life to play in the mud, and to let their sense of wonder lead them to places where they don’t mind if their hands get dirty. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your comments.

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