Maybe the way to get girls into science is to make it fun. Roominate Toys hopes to do exactly that. This new toy company’s mission is “to get girls excited about math and science.”
Three young women founders who met as graduate students at Stanford, have created what looks like a dollhouse with wiring. Actually, Roominate is set of components that can be built into houses, shops, apartment buildings, or anything else. In addition to the wooden components for the structure and furniture, the sets come with circuits so kids can add lights, TVs, computers, or fans to their constructions.
Co-founder Alice Brooks says, “adding more detail to the room--putting the fan and lights--inspires kids, and the story they’re telling. One girl made a restaurant because she had a fan and a buzzer.” Others have made malls and even indoor swimming pools (it being San Francisco). Eventually, Roominate plans to add movies to their website to inspire even more creativity.
The three founders know their science; they have degrees in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and cognitive neurosciences from CalTech, Stanford, and MIT. They were all lucky to have experience with science, math, Legos, and carpentry but realize not all girls have the same exposure.
Clearly, they’re onto something. At San Francisco’s recent Maker Faire, hundreds of kids swarmed their booth, and parents were only able to get their kids away by pre-ordering a Roominate Kit ($49 for the basic kit). Roominate Toys has already pre-sold several hundred kits on Kickstarter and raised its goal, which bodes well for the business. This fledging enterprise has also attracted some investors. The campaign "is our first step in understanding what our customers need and want," says Kessler. Soon, they’ll be producing their first orders and determining their manufacturing capacity. Although Roominate is a business, Kessler and Brooks say they’ll stick to their vision and goal of spreading science and make all business decisions from there.
As for their own childhoods, the young women both played with Barbies, as well as designing houses, building with Lego, and nailing things in the basement. None were pushed into science. Brooks says,“It just what was natural at home. My mom was a math teacher, my dad is a roboticist." Citing how she did math contests unbeknownst to her parents, Kessler says, "My parents didn’t push me…For us, we felt like anything was an option.”
Although fun, Roominate is inherently educational and teaches math and science thinking. Brooks explains, “What we’re trying to do is have these things start at home and be part of playtime and not like school work. So that in the comfort of their own home girls can build up their confidence.”
Roominate imparts a math and science way of thinking as well as familiarity with circuits. It teaches spatial reasoning and introduces kids to the very mathematical idea of repeating concepts over and over again in different ways.
As Kessler says, “For many girls, math and science don’t feel like an option, and we want it to be.”