Toys for Future Engineers #1: Roominate

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17 November 2012 by not a wild hera

Roominate, a new engineering toy

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.

Read the whole article at Good. Thanks to one of my favourite bloggers, Scot McKnight at JesusCreed, for the heads up.

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. 

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9 thoughts on “Toys for Future Engineers #1: Roominate

  1. Angela says:

    Love this! It would be so cool for Reuben. I couldn’t tell you yet if Esther would like it (I don’t see any teddies) but I would love to give it to her! I wanted to be an architect throughout my childhood and teenage years (so did Kent). I was put off by all the the science we were told we would need at Careers Evening (so was Kent). When I was a kid I drew houses with cool things like rooms full of bean bags, and I am still designing the perfect house in my head. I’m also very spatial and a great map reader. All in all it sounds like I have missed my calling.
    There’s an interesting swing towards “nurture” rather than “nature” in this post.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Angela, Not having a go at you re your decision not to go into architecture, but just explaining from what i’ve observed:

      The reason architects need to take a bit of science and maths is so they can do a bit of engineering at uni and not come up with completely impractical concepts. they also need to be able to work with mechanical, electircal, hydraulic, civil and structural engineers and understand enough of what they are doing that they can pull it all together in a project.

      almost like the conductor of an orchestra – they need to be a champion at that art as well as having a good familiarity with all the instruments under their direction.

  2. Caroline says:

    That’s a great toy – would love to get one of those (but I suspect it would be more for me than the girls). At least it isn’t all in pink. I think it would be just as good for boys to play with as girls & would happily give it to either. I grew up playing with Lego too – particularly Technic Lego. I never thought about whether it was supposed to be for boys – it never occurred to me that I “shouldn’t” be playing with it. I also had dolls to dress and spent most of my summers playing on roller skates.

    I think my interest in science was mostly nature, but encouraged by nurture. When I showed an interest in science and maths, then I was encouraged to develop in that area – I suppose the toys I had were part of that. I also think that attending a girls’ secondary school helped – I wasn’t really aware that there were such low proportions of girls studying science as my class was 100% girls.

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m an engineer. In our class at canterbury uni, there were maybe 20% women. It certainly isn’t for lack of encouragement and support that women take it up at lower numbers. There are myriad organisations devoted to supporting women in engineering / construction. The women engineers I’ve worked with tend to be better than the average man. a different approach to the same task probably informed by their femininity. i think that even on construction sites, a graduate woman engineer will get as much respect from the workers as a male grad engineer.

    our society needs more engineers of either gender to take it up as a profession. Is it a problem that with entry requirements being completely open fewer women choose to be engineers? Which doors are closed? Are kids less inclined to take the “hard” sciences and maths required?

    I like any toys that encourage kids to think, esp about engineering and maths related things.

  4. […] targeted to girls, and while we’re not usually fans of gender-specific toys, we are huge fans of encouraging more girls to become engineers. Roominate is essentially a modular dollhouse with working circuits that gives every girl the […]

  5. […] talk about toys a lot here. Too many? Too gendered? Too violent? Too untidy?! It’s not all fretting, of course, but I’d like to balance […]

  6. […] solution, a little like the Roominate toy we looked at a while ago, is Architect Barbie, if you can believe […]

  7. […] a pleasingly familiar story, Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, wants to introduce girls to the world of […]

  8. […] Toys for Future Engineers #1: Roominate […]

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