Toys That Inspire

By Stephanie Hein

The gender gap in the field of engineering is no secret. But just how large is it? According to the National Science Foundation, women represent a mere 13% of the engineering workforce. The field also has a shockingly low retention rate for female engineers, leading to recent efforts to emphasize STEM in K-12 settings.

Across the K-12 grades, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math and science scores do not differ drastically between boys and girls. In addition, a study by the Girl Scouts of America found that a majority of girls are interested in STEM subjects and their associated skills. So with similar test scores and high interest levels, why does the gender gap in engineering still persist? The short answer: STEM subjects and activities are oftentimes not designed to engage girls in meaningful and relatable ways, leaving them feeling alienated and discouraged.

Toys might not be the first solution that comes to mind to engage girls in engineering, however, there are a variety of toys on the market (often created by female engineers!) that are designed to do just that. Check out a few of my favorites below.

Blink Blink Paper Circuits


Created by aerospace engineer Nicole Messier and designer Alex Tosti, Blink Blink kits add an engineering element to traditional arts and crafts projects. The Paper Circuit Kit comes with origami paper, LED lights, copper tape, and instructions to guide budding engineers through the project, with additional project ideas available on the Blink Blink website. In addition to the Paper Circuit Kit, the Wearable Tech Kits allow sewable circuits to be added to a variety of fashion items such as scarves, hats, and bags.


Build & Imagine


Build & Imagine Founder Laurie Peterson noticed a lack of building toys for girls, so she created Build & Imagine kits, which are a combination of building blocks, dollhouses and dress-up. Each kit comes with wooden magnetic building panels and wooden dolls, which connect to form 3D storyboards reminiscent of dollhouses. The kits emphasize engineering skills such as spatial reasoning and problem solving while also encouraging creativity.


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires


In The Most Magnificent Thing, Ashley Spires delivers a story of a young inventor who sets out to make the most magnificent thing but as she builds she keeps trying and failing to create her perfect invention. Sprinkled with engineering-related vocabulary, this book conveys the importance of perseverance, creativity, and the ability to learn from mistakes, dispositions that are essential for any young engineer to learn.