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As honourable as the vision for room-designing kit, Roominate, might be, I have a problem with it. Having watched my own child develop from birth to nine, I know that every toy is an educational experience, from gaudy plastic building blocks, to proper ‘flash card’ based learning products. He has played with everything from science kits to his female cousins’ baby dolls. But I don’t think any of these toys or games will influence his college decisions.
So what is Roominate? Basically, it is a ‘building toy for girls’ . A kit to design rooms, apartments and houses and connect them up to a working circuit for electricity. Like a bespoke dolls house. The kits are all modular, and children can design to their own specifications and add and build on to the rooms they make.
Roominate looks fun and I am sure both girls (and boys) would enjoy it. But let’s leave subliminal educational persuasion out of it, and not try to kid ourselves that products like this are going to encourage kids to want to major in engineering or anything else. No more than they would suddenly want to go to jockey-school if they got ‘Equestrian Barbie’ for Christmas.
The three female Stanford graduate students who developed Roominate think differently. They say the product aims to raise young girls’ confidence and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and maths. The blurb says it delivers ‘a fun toy experience’ that forges ‘exploration and confidence’ and that its core audience – six to 10-year-old girls - will be left ‘inspired and encouraged’.
Its founders emphasise that they want Roominate to be fun, and that it is ‘crucial’ that girls do not realise they are playing with an educational toy. But who are they trying to convince? Parent or child?
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It may be a bit of a marketing stretch, but I think it's a cool toy!