Color me a skeptic when it comes to marketing STEM toys to girls. Part of the problem is color. Why must building toys for girls be pink and purple rather than primary colors or neutral tones? Why can't we have gender-neutral building toys? Are we breaking down one set of stereotypes while clinging to a different set? Is there a non-pink way to interest girls in STEM?
I love to see girls engaged in STEM learning -- science, technology, math, and engineering.
As a grandmother to five granddaughters, I've spent quite a lot of time wondering how best to do it.
The designers of the innovative building toy Roominate have spent some time thinking about this topic, too, but they've turned their convictions into reality.
To answer the burning question -- Roominate does have a lot of pink and purple pieces. To be fair, yellow, green, turquoise, orange and almost every other shade are also represented. But the overall impact is, yes, a little girly. Will little girls see the sets and feel that it's okay to be interested? That's the hope of the Roominate designers, who happen to be female. They are also engineers..
The Roominate Blueprint
Basically Roominate creates kits to build wired dollhouses. Newer kits can be used to create a helicopter or an RV. The basic pieces are small plastic grids that snap together. These are supplemented with assorted other pieces and with craft paper and stickers.
Each set also comes with a miniature doll and pet.
Roominate building sets are innovative for three reasons.
- First, although each set contains the pieces for creating the target item, the pieces can be reassembled into dozens of other items. Some are pictured on the instructions, but builders are encouraged to come up with their own creations.
- Second, those aforementioned instructions aren't really instructions. They consist primarily of a diagram showing the assembled item, which means that small builders will do a lot of tearing down and reassembling and also quite a bit of troubleshooting.
- Third, the kits include circuits that can be hooked up to make parts move and light up -- not a usual feature in kits designed for girls.
My granddaughters are mostly too old for Roominate, but I tested three of the kits with my youngest granddaughter, age 11. I bought the Chateau for her last year, and we recently tried out the Townhouse and the RV. She loved them all. I liked the dollhouses but hated the RV, which was hard to keep together and which barely had enough power to turn the axles. That bothered my granddaughter not a whit. She figured out that we hadn't assembled some of the parts correctly, due to the minimal directions mentioned above. She tinkered with it until it worked, although it is still no hot rod.
We did not try out the rPower device, sold separately, which allows users to control the motion and lighting via an iPad or iPhone. The website says that the device can "unlock new circuit abilities." Maybe the rPower can soup up that RV motor a bit!
Revisiting the Gender Question
In my childhood, I enjoyed going to a neighbor's house to play, because that neighbor had boys, and the boys had Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. No one even considered buying those building toys for my sister or me. Roominate is a move away from that kind of stereotyping, and I approve. Today, of course, there are Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys marketed to girls. But, yes, they are pink.