This year, two conflicting trends seem to be pulling retailers in either direction. Fortune reports that retailers are discarding “boys” and “girls” labels on toys, instead leaning towards gender neutrality—toys that can fit for either gender. For example, on Halloween costumes, lunch boxes, backpacks, and other children’s accessories, Disney Stores labeled them as “kids” rather than designating one gender or the other. What’s the root cause of this trend? “The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to. The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play Easy Bake,” says Editor in Chief of toy review website TTPM, Jim Silver.
However, it seems to be the case that there aren’t quite as many girls who want to be Iron Man or Captain America, hence the second (and conflicting) trend during this holiday season: an influx of STEM toys made just for girls. In another article, Fortune explains that the predicted increase in STEM jobs has sparked a movement to pique girls’ interest in those careers at a younger age (you can see our past articles on girls in STEM here). From Girls Who Code to Hard Hats and Heels, there are vibrant movements across the country designed to increase the currently low percentages of women in manufacturing, engineering, and technology careers.
These movements have trickled down to toys. Whether or not you think that girls really need different STEM toys, (as Fortune asks, “Are these just playing off anachronistic stereotypes—or overcoming them?”) young women across the country have started their own companies in pursuit of inspiring other women and right-sizing the gender gap.
Here are two of the companies run by women designed to reverse the overwhelmingly male-oriented STEM industries by inspiring creativity, curiosity, and exploration at a young age.
Linkitz: Linkitz was founded by one of the first women to earn a PhD in computer science (MIT, 1988). Yes, it is only that recently that women have begun to enter higher education in technology fields. Lyssa Neel created a bracelet with programmable electronic charms that can turn the bracelet into different toys. It gives girls a reason to code, and comes with a kid-friendly visual programming language that lets kids change how each link on their bracelets behave. “You can make a hand clapping game, a walkie talkie, or send a secret code,” Neel says. You can preorder the bracelet here.
GoldieBlox: Founder Debbie Sterling told Fortune that she was inspired to create her company after looking at toy store shelves and finding action heroes, erector sets, and Legos for boys, while the girls’ was aisle full of princesses and tea-party accessories. “It seemed so obvious there was this huge gap. That’s when I saw my opportunity. I could introduce young girls to the world of building.” The protagonist of the toys is Goldie, “a force to be reckoned with. She’s a mechanical engineer, an inventor, and a waffle-lover. She builds wonderful, amazing bloxtastic machines that sometimes really do work.” Sets like the Craft-Struction box combine crafting and construction so that kids can “think like Goldie to prototype and problem solve.” The goals are to help kids build spatial skills, learn engineering principles, and gain confidence in problem-solving. Even though it’s marketed to girls, all kids can benefit from the skills that come from the pieces within.
Are there any STEM toys for kids that we’ve missed? If so, leave a comment in the section below, anytime!