COMMENTARY: Back to School Goes Full STEAM Ahead

The back-to-school season usually means the smell of newly sharpened pencils, a new wardrobe, and denial that the precious summer months have come to a close. You’ve probably heard the acronym STEAM being thrown around here and there, but this movement is making a bigger impact on the toy industry than ever before.

STEAM puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and these concepts have definitely made their way to back-to-school gear. But companies are doing a lot more than just making educational toys. They’re creating products that have value added to them—something kids appreciate without even knowing, and parents love for all of the extra benefits. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: World Maker Faire Is Where D-I-Y Meets T-O-Y-S!

MakerFaire,crowdshot,littleBitsThis past weekend, under terrific late-summer weather, the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., was the site of this year’s World Maker Faire. The massive, two-day-long science fair/state fair drew large crowds of hobbyists, educators, tech enthusiasts, and more. The exhibitors consisted of a wide range of crafty and tech-savvy folks working in a variety of medium—and they included quite a few toy companies.

Given that innovation and education are among the underlying principles of World Maker Faire—not to mention the larger “maker movement” as a whole—it wasn’t surprising to find many toys aimed at fostering intellectual curiosity in kids. It would take too much space to list them all, but here are three that struck my fancy. Each encourages learning in ways that are hands-on and inventive.

SparkleLabsSparkle Labs: The New York City-based company’s mission is to make science and engineering as approachable as possible. To that end, its Papertronics – Lunar Modules is an origami kit with cute designs on paper, to go with simple electronics that teach the basics of LED circuitry. Suitable for kids ages 8 and up, each kit includes all the materials necessary for three working lanterns: Spaceboy, Alien Girl, and Tabula Rasa. [Read more...]

GoldieBlox Builds a Foundation for More Female Engineers

Debbie Sterling creates a construction toy designed with girls in mind

What do Bob the Builder, Jimmy Neutron, and Bill Nye the Science Guy have in common? They all love engineering—and they are all male. Similarly, the construction aisles of toy stores are geared primarily toward boys, with blue and black boxes lining the shelves. Fear not, those of you with lady parts, GoldieBlox is here to inspire girls to tinker their way into the male-dominated world of engineering.

Debbie Sterling, who earned her degree in engineering from Stanford University, decided to create Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine, a construction toy specifically designed for young girls, two years ago. At one of Sterling’s “idea brunches,” where she and friends would get together to share their ideas over breakfast, the wheels started turning for the CEO when a fellow female engineer explained how playing with her brothers’ hand-me-down Legos influenced her. Having grown up with only a sister, Sterling was never exposed to construction toys as her parents never thought to venture into the boys’ toy aisles. “That morning, it hit me like a lightening bolt. I was sitting in that room and realized this is my life calling, as corny as it sounds,” she says. [Read more...]