Alice, Bettina and Jennifer from Roominate. Photo by Frog Mom
Little girls, a new era begins. Of course you can play all you want with toy ironing boards or princess dresses but do you really want to be a domestic wallflower in life – or do you have bigger dreams? Based on the fact that early exposure to sciences, technology, math and engineering through toys will inspire change, three Stanford geekesses created a stackable, attachable and customizable miniature room with working circuits that you can build yourself. In other words: the doll house that girls can create, wire up, deconstruct and make their own. I love this idea! I met these forward-thinking women at the Maker Faire and had a chat with them on their project, currently raising funds on Kickstarter.
Alice, Bettina and Jennifer from Roominate
Roominate sample room
My 6-year old and her friend at play
My 8-year old gets some help on the electronics
Maker Faire Experience
In the main Expo Hall at the Bay Area Maker Faire, my girls needed a breather from the crowds and after a stint at the Exploratorium booth, we stumbled upon Roominate. Hard to miss in the maze of grey makers booths. It was all pink: pink fabric walls, pink tee-shirts, pink and white stickers. Somehow this whispered “girls” and despite the fact that my girls don’t really like pink, they didn’t even think when they saw other little girls busy assembling doll house rooms and handling brightly-colored wires. They just walked in.
My 8-year old found a spot on the rug and got to work immediately, intensely focusing on the arrangement of the furniture she built, the lights she connected to the walls and the stickers she used to decorate her creation. She didn’t realize that the parts were for display only and that she couldn’t walk away with her “room” and put all her heart into her project. As you can guess, leaving the creation behind was a sad and tearful affair but it also showed me how much she had enjoyed the activity.
From a toy developer’s perspective, it was a success. She had used all the parts that were available to her, combined different shapes and sizes, and understood the electronics behind the wood panel to install a fan and wall lights inside. Perfect. As for my 6-year old, she teamed up with an 8-year old friend to build another room. We probably stayed 30 minutes at this booth and each child that was playing inside (girls mostly, a few boys too) was intensely focused on their project.
Roominate Interview – Watch It Online
I interviewed the Roominate team at the Maker Faire. My apologies for the background noise but it’s the Maker Faire! In the interview, you will see a model Roominate structure and how it works. Check the background for busy little bees working on their own projects:)
Watch it here: Frog Mom meets Roominate at the Bay Area Maker Faire
Why I Think This Project is Valuable
Like the Roominate team, I believe that girls can do wonderful things in the fields of science and technology and that this type of critical thinking needs to be fostered from an early age. Yet I walk into any toy department at a big box store and the girl toys aisles are a stereotypical line-up of pretend home-play products, sparkly synthetic unicorns, princess dresses and pastel make-up kits.
Now just try to offer any of those to a boy and he’ll laugh at you – or think you’re dumb, or both. Yet little girls are surrounded by a culture of being judged on how they look rather than how they think and everybody thinks that’s OK. To me, such toys are debilitating and reinforce the wrong image for girls. Girls, you too can destroy toys, use power drills and engineer bridges!
As you understand, I strongly support a solid science education for girls and that starts with clever toys that engage math and electronics thinking. I don’t see the math potential in Roominate just yet but I definitely see the electronics part – and I hope this team will come up with game ideas and challenges that will keep girls thinking in that direction.
This could be what’s described on Kickstarter as Roominate Reel, a series of mini-movies with prompts and challenges to keep girls coming back to Roominate. According to the website: “Our prompts will stimulate girls’ problem solving and creativity skills, while also ensuring that Roominate stays compelling, entertaining, and illuminating.” I say: let Roominate be!
How You Too Can Support Roominate
As I mentioned in the opening, Roominate is not a live toy yet. It is a project and if you want to see it to fruition, you can pledge a financial contribution via the Kickstarter campaign. Roominate needs to raise $25,000 before Friday June 16, 2012. Judging by my 8-year old’s reaction, I think I know what her birthday present will be.
Now you all think I was paid thousands of dollars to write this and it’s a total infomercial. Sadly (for my purse), no. The Roominate team did not ask me to write all this. I decided to do it because I felt there’s a need to build clever toys for girls that talk to their brains.