Toys for Future Engineers #1: Roominate
I attribute my brilliant and amazing parallel parking skills to all the Lego I played with as a kid. I’m good at reading maps, too.
Here’s a step up, though, if you want to encourage not just spatial development, but the kinds of skills in technology and design that lay the groundwork for an engineering career.
Roominate is aimed at girls – the kind of girls who love techie stuff, and the kind who might think it’s for boys. Roominate entices both kinds into messing around with design tools and inspiring sophisticated creativity.
Year after year, three female students sat through college engineering and math classes asking themselves the same question—where are the girls? The students—Jennifer Kessler, Alice, Brooks, and Bettina Chen—realized they all shared childhood experiences that drew them to technology, business, and math, fields typically dominated by men despite women’s educational asecendence. So they invented a toy girls can build from the ground up to inspire them to take on male-dominated fields.
Roominate is the toy “where every young girl is an artist, engineer, architect, and visionary” with her own opportunity to build a dollhouse-sized room, customize the furniture, select the decorations, and electrify the whole thing with working circuits.
The women say they were all given the tools at a young age to eschew gender stereotypes. Brooks got a saw when she asked for a Barbie. Kessler loved to solve math riddles. Chen grew up building Lego creations with her brother, never being told that the toy was intended for boys. The older they got though, the more gender disparity the women faced. According to the National Science Foundation, only 15 percent of female college freshmen plan to major in science, technology, engineering, or math, and less than 11 percent of engineers are women.
Chen says her electrical engineering class at the California Institute of Technology was 10 to 15 percent women. “I guess I got used to it, but it kind of sucked,” she says. “I didn’t get why there weren’t many girls. A lot of times people assume, ‘Oh, you’re a girl. You’re not going to be doing engineering, you’re going to be a humanities major.’”
Roominate moves young girls away from the pink and frilly and towards the thoughtful and creative. Two hundred girls have tested the toy so far. Some have decided to make their room a restaurant or a pet shop, designed accordingly, then powered it up with a working fan or lit miniature television
I’m a bit squirmy about Roominate being called a building toy ‘for girls,’ but I’m more concerned about the small number of women in engineering classes.
What do you think? Could you imagine giving this to a girl or boy of your acquaintance?
What do you think of it being marketed specifically to girls?
What else would you recommend as amazing toys for opening up paths to girls that they might otherwise think are closed (and have I just answered my concern about the marketing?!)?
Want to see more toys for future engineers and architects? Take a look at our post on GoldieBlox, which combines mechanical problem-solving with an adventure story featuring girl characters. And check out the post on Architect Barbie – you may be surprised by what you read…
And if you’ve got other tips of toys aimed at encouraging girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, please leave a comment.0