How can a Barbie STEM kit teach my daughter about engineering?
My 7-year-old daughter has a very inquisitive mind. She loves learning how things work and is always coming up with new ideas and ways to improve everyday toys and objects. When you ask her what she would like to be when she grows up the answer is always “a teacher” or “an inventor”.
I often find her in the garden playing teacher with her class made up of teddies, dolls and a little sister, however when it comes to “playing” inventors she is much more restricted. Of course she can make things from cardboard and coloured paper, but I want to help her to see just how fun real science and engineering can be.
Working in the industry I am very aware that girls are a third less likely to take interest in pursuing a STEM career than boys, and with the exception of marine and social sciences, males end up outnumbering females in each of the technical and scientific fields.
Whether or not she really does want to be an inventor, I see this stage in her life as the perfect opportunity to provide her with the chance to really pursue that interest whether it’s for two weeks or ten years.
The problem is that already by age 7 she sees many things associated with STEM subjects as “too boyish”. She would rather play with dolls than LEGO and bake cakes than build robots. Simply she likes being a little girl.
Barbie is one of her favourites, so I have been extremely excited to see that Mattel have teamed up with Thames and Kosmos to introduce a Barbie doll which encourages kids to explore STEM subjects.
At first I was sceptical, and unsure how it would work. The best engineering toys aimed at girls must not force learning upon them, but instead embrace how they play and integrate science into that play. This set seems to manage that balance well. The aim is to make Barbie’s life better with the use of engineering and science, but most of all it is fun!
Through a guide that is part-storybook and part-instruction manual, Barbie is presented with various dilemmas and works with her friend, Nikki, to build a solution. This is ideally how prototyping begins, by having a problem and trying to build a solution.
The very first activity is building a spinning clothes rack. After building the rack, the manual encourages kids to contemplate the functionality of the design. Through the step-by-step process, children learn that not all gears work the same way. It shows how a small gear can increase the torque (turning force), but a larger gear may make something turn faster.
The Barbie STEM kit explores not only building, but also chromatography, botany, and even optical illusions. The building pieces in the STEM Kit are not only completely compatible with Barbie’s dream house, but also Thames and Kosmos’ existing building sets for ages five and up. This means that we should be able to move on to discover anything from robotics, physics, pneumatics, or hydraulics using pieces from the original set.
More importantly for me, it looks like I finally have the right set which will allow my daughter to still feel like a girl and play with her dolls, whilst enjoying the wonderful world of STEM. Hopefully it can play a role in planting a small seed to encourage some of the next generation of girls to pursue careers in engineering, science and maths.
After all, as she takes pride in telling me every day… “Girls rule, boys drool.”
For more information visit http://thamesandkosmos.co.uk/shop/barbie/stem-barbie/