Techno-Dollhouses: Encouraging Engineering for Girls
Kristen M. Foster
As a young girl I built a big Victorian dollhouse with my Dad. We stained the floors and glued on individual shingles and installed little wallpaper. It’s that proclivity that award-winning Roominate is trying to tap into in its second year of existence with their DIY wired dollhouse line.
Roominate creators and Stanford graduates Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen have degrees in engineering, mechanical and electrical respectively, and they want to encourage other women to study engineering. That’s why the women developed this line of toys; they are hoping to inspire the next line of female innovators in science, technology, engineering and math (known as the STEM fields). On the company “About” page, Brooks reveals that she grew up playing in her father’s robotics lab, “When she asked for a Barbie, he gave her a mini saw,” prompting her to create her own doll. Chen says as a young girl, she and her older brother loved building extravagant LEGO creations.
Kits come with wires and generators, and press indicates that while the pastel kits are targeted at girls, they are engaging children of both sexes. Nothing says the kit is restricted to building a dollhouse, kids have created anything from double-decker bridges to cotton candy makers and packaging is designed gender-neutral.
Prices range from around $10 for a little airplane set to almost $200—plus the cost of eight AAA batteries—for the “Dream House Architect” (pictured here).
Initial reviews last year were pretty rough and demonstrated that toy start-ups can be some of the most challenging. Kits came out just in time for the 2012 holidays. Others have commented that they prefer this over, for example, LEGO Friends—the line of girl-targeted LEGO toys that came out last year as well. Those users refer to Roominate’s capitalizing on girls’ play patterns—creating details, strategizing future projects, etc.
A quick look at reviews on the sites the kits are sold on shows the vast majority give them five stars; negative reviews list a dearth of the modular building pieces, wall materials that could be purchased anywhere and motors that are overpowering for the supplies provided. The creators are using a series of workshops, community events, videos and other press to engage customers as they work on improvements ahead of this year’s toy buying season.[Images via Facebook and www.roominatetoy.com]