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Fresh Find: Growing the Next Generation of Female Tech Innovators

Have you guys noticed the recent crop of building and designing toys hitting the shelves made specifically for girls?  This is a trend I’m beyond excited about.  You see, even at the tender age of 2, I can already tell that S is an engineer at heart.

That’s not to say other skills won’t develop as she matures – she may ultimately foster strengths in lots of other areas – but for now she’s a builder.  Yes, there’s a special spot in her heart for her babies and she appreciates a shiny bauble as much as the next girl (or boy).  But 9 times out of 10, when given the choice, she’ll go straight for the blocks (and lately even the puzzles).  Which, of course, has this eagle-eyed momma on the lookout for toys and activities to nurture those interests.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

There’s a lot being said these days about young girls and the princess complex.  Are you feeling this with your daughters?  If so, what are you doing to stop it?

I first heard about Roominate several months ago when a friend, who also has a two year old daughter, excitedly emailed me their expired kickstarter video. (Check it out below – even with the prototype cardboard version it’s still very cool.)

At the time the video was shot, Roominate was a burgeoning idea of a company looking for backers.  And they certainly found them. They asked for $25,000 in startup pledges and got nearly $86,000 – apparently I’m not the only one that thinks they’re on to something.

WHO THEY ARE

Company founders, Alice and Bettina, are two engineers out of Caltech, MIT, and Stanford who wish they saw more women in their upper level math and science classes. They believe that early exposure through toys will motivate the next generation of female technology innovators and they designed Roominate to get young girls to have fun with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), while building hands-on skills and confidence.

Here’s what Alice and Bettina have to say about their company mission:

As females in engineering, we were surprised to see the (already low) number of women decrease even more as we transitioned from undergraduate to graduate school. We wondered why we had chosen engineering.

For both of us, we realized it really started back when we were little kids, way before we had any concept of what an engineer actually was. We were most inspired by toys that let us build. Bettina played with her older brother’s legos, and the two of them built hundreds of extravagant cities and creations. Alice grew up playing in her dad’s robotics lab.

But seeing the strong divisions between girls and boys toys today, and the lack of creative building options in those girls toys, we didn’t find any girls toys that allowed for the same types of experiences that inspired us.

We knew we had to do something to solve this problem and provide more options and opportunities for girls as early as possible. We came together to design a toy that would encourage young girls to create and explore hands-on. With Roominate, we have designed a toy that builds confidence in technology and engineering, all while being intuitive and fun.

WHAT THEY DO

Roominate gives early exposure to hands-on building and circuits by allowing kids to design and build a dollhouse as well as it’s furniture and working electronic fixtures.  Based on the popularity of past circuit toys we’ve featured on MPMK, I know you guys agree with me that this in itself is a rad idea. The even more wonderful thing about Roominate is that it brings together creativity and engineering in a way that speaks to girls and how they play.

Another thing that I love is Roominate’s new monthly subscription program, in which kids receive a new Expansion Kit at the beginning of every month for 3 months. Each expansion kit includes a new circuit, more building pieces, and/or more decorations to add to their existing Roominate creations, thus maintaining their interest and allowing them to expand on their ingenuity.

Are you guys excited about this concept?  Yes?  Great, so let’s talk pricing – because I know if I were reading this post, right about now I’d be increasingly excited about the idea but wondering how much it’s going to cost me.  The sets aren’t cheap, starting at $59, but they do fall into the price range that the majority of you said you’d be willing to spend on a high quality, engaging toy (according to last Friday’s poll).  For our family, this probably wouldn’t be a toy we’d buy on a whim but it certainly is something we’d consider for a birthday or Christmas.

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For me, finding ways to foster creativity, exploration, and innovation in my kids is paramount.  To that end, if I truly believe that a toy will feed my kids’ interests and cultivate those skills then I’m in. This means that at our house we don’t spend money on toys with lots of bells, whistles and licensed characters but we are willing to spend our money to build a large sandbox, curate a slew of art supplies, or go for the delux set of high quality blocks.

Based on these parent reviews and this awesome gallery of what little girls have been cooking up – I’m thinking roominate falls into this category for us.  What do you think?  Are you as intrigued as I am?

Question of the Day

There’s a lot being said these days about young girls and the princess complex.  Are you feeling this with your daughters?  If so, what are you doing to stop it?

*This post contains affiliate links and is sponsored by the lovely ladies behind Roominate – all opinions are 100% my own.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly March 4, 2013 at 1:34 am

When my daughter was a baby I decorated her room in primary colors. We didn’t have the money to buy her everything on the market and she had more fun with the cheap toys from Burger King than anything expensive from the store. She is 15 now, and while I may not agree with all of her clothing choices, I am very proud of how creative and independent she is.

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mpmk March 4, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Creative and independent are definitely two goals I have for my daughter Kelly (and my son too for that matter).

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Stephanie March 4, 2013 at 4:40 am

I read “Cinderalla Ate My Daughter” just after my daughter was born. For the most part I’ve been able to avoid princesses with her. I’m not against fairy tales and I love the color pink, but everything in moderation. At 2 1/2 she’d rarely heard the word until she got the book Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. She’s a big Olivia fan but after a couple readings we put it away until she’s older. We understand the intent of the book and of the people who gave it to her, but we just didn’t want to bombard her with the word “princess” over and over again. Recently I was wearing a Princess Leia t-shirt and my daughter asked me about the lady on my shirt. I told her if she wants a princess dress, I’ll make her a Leia costume. She seemed pretty pleased about that!

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mpmk March 4, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Love that Stephanie! So it sounds like you thought the book made some good points?

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Stephanie March 5, 2013 at 9:48 am

Olivia rejects pink fairy princesses because she wants to be different from what all the other kids are doing. She wonders why no one wants to be a princess from Africa, or Thailand, or India. In the end she decides to write off princesses altogether — she wants to be the queen instead. I think it’s a good book for someone who’s already asking about princesses or obsessed with them, but since our daughter doesn’t care about princesses, we didn’t see the need to make her care about them.

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Mary March 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

We have a 2 1/2 year old girl, like the reader above. We never talk about princesses and she doesn’t know the word, yet. I know she will probably go through a princess phase at some point. I just want to be sure she knows her parents don’t expect her to be clean/quiet/boring just because she is a girl.

She also seems to like building toys. We will be checking out Roominate in a few years.

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mpmk March 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

This sounds just like our daughter S. I have no problem if she goes through a princess phase, as I’ve been told it’s nearly inevitable, I just hope that it’s because it’s something that she’s interested in and not because other girls, society, whatever makes here feel like she should care about it.

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Amy March 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

The “princess” idea is one I have heard myself use when it comes to encouraging good manners. That’s the only way it is used.

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gina March 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

My daughter just turned 2 so we arent there yet. Right now she loves building with legos though so maybe this would be fun down the road!

Not sure how to handle the princess complex – ask me again in a few years =) She doesnt even know who Cinderella is

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Shara March 4, 2013 at 11:48 am

I don’t think there is a problem with princesses for little girls. I do believe that most little girls go through a princess phase, but grow out of the obsession within a short time frame, unless the parents continue to fuel it. My little girl loves dolls, playing kitchen, Barbie, but also loves to build with Legos, Lincoln logs, or blocks. She also loves to climb trees and get muddy! I think as long as you buy the gender neutral long lasting toys, like Legos, Lincoln logs, blocks, trains, tinker toys, along with the cute little girl things, then your child will be well rounded and you have invested in toys that can last a lifetime. What a child gravitates to is largely personality; I am one of 5 kids and I played with all the girl stuff, but also played in the woods building forts, splashing in streams, and i also built my own 3 story Barbie house and all it’s furniture when I was 10 out of cardboard pieces. But my younger sister did not do many of those things because her innate personality made it difficult for her to play without someone telling her what to do. I have seen the same personality differences in my own 4 children.

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mpmk March 4, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Well said, Shara.

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Jennifer March 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I love this idea on so many levels, it just misses the mark for me.

First, not that it should be heavily marketed toward boys (it shouldn’t), but can’t boys use it too? Young children are particularly susceptible to the images used with marketing and quick to say, “That is for boys/girls.” Wouldn’t more women feel comfortable in engineering classrooms if they made the mental impressions as children that “Building is for everyone?” Even one boy image. Even one.

I could get past my first objection (Lego Friends are in the house and their marketing and store positioning drive me crazy), but they are just too expensive for what they are. I could see spending $90-$150 on the “Chateau” set, but not $225. The $20 sets (if they are in the groups as pictured on the website) just do not carry enough value for me. For me to invest in a new building set, I would need to be able to compete with the building sets already in my home. No way can I afford to buy enough to do that. Bummer.

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mpmk March 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I hear what you’re saying Jennifer – I would buy it for my son AND my daughter. I think the challenge the developers face is that not all parents out there are tuned into the need/importance (what’s the right word?) of introducing STEM related activities to young girls – so they need to somewhat drive the point home with their packaging and branding. I agree also about the pricing and we would definitely be purchasing the more standard set (but that’s how we are with lots of toys – don’t often go for the deluxe edition unless it’s a tried and true favorite). Hopefully as this company takes off they’ll be able to reduce some of their price points.

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Tracy March 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I agree. It’s such a shame that we’re at a point in society where girls “need” a girly take on a toy in order for them to enjoy it. The problem is society, and not the girls’ natural interests. Trying to correct a societal problem by reinforcing gender stereotypes will only make the problem worse, not better.

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Mandie March 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I don’t think the problem is this “princess idea” but rather societies (and parents) forcing their children to like certain things. Whether they limit princesses for girls or won’t allow their boys to even look at pink things. My daughter likes princess stuff. But so does my son. My daughter loves batman, and so does my son. I let them choose what they like. My son (5) went through a period of wanting to wear makeup, and I let him. He’s grown out it, but still doesn’t mind playing house with his little sister or dressing up in princess costumes. My daughter (2) loves legos, playing “bad guys and good guys”, and other “boy” things. The problems isn’t with princesses, or being exposed to the idea, the problem is with parents.

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Kelly March 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Thanks for the heads-up on an awesome sounding toy! I’m adding it to our wishlist for the holidays. We avoid princess-themed things quite easily by not having a TV and not purchasing toys/books/clothes with commercialized characters in them – which can be somewhat difficult at times. Of course we have friends that have princess items but my two girls so far have no interest, which may change as they get older. I feel that society and the media push the whole “princess” thing on girls but also “hero” stuff on boys, which is just as much of a shame. Also, manufacturers can make double the money if they offer gender-specific toys: one set for the daughter and one for the son, so they have a very vested interest in pushing the whole princess/hero agenda.

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Jessie S March 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Man, I’m ALL over this dollhouse action. I don’t have a girl but maybe someday we will add a little Estrogen to this place. It’s just me, a Hubby and a little Fella as of now. So… no princess complex (thank goodness, eh?!) I LOVE the dollhouses.
http://wp.me/p38DGE-42

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