Like most moms, I don't believe my children are limited in what they can do by their genders. I encourage my son to feed baby dolls and my daughter to race toy cars. I want my son to know that it's OK if he wants to be a teacher and for my daughter to know that she can become an astronaut. Laying the foundation for well-rounded kids begins in early childhood and I try to choose the toys I bring into the house carefully.
While I haven't banned Barbie and allow my daughter to wear the pink tutus she loves several times a week, I do what I can to encourage my daughter to build the foundational skills she will need to succeed in math and the sciences. It's too early to tell, but I not-so-secretly hope that my daughter inherited my husband's natural ability in math and that she might become an engineer like her paternal grandfather and uncles. I've brought my daughter to the aptly-named Building Zone in the National Building Museum a few times a month since she was tiny and let her loose in its many exhibits that encourage special skills, problem solving and mathematical understanding. I can barely contain my delight at seeing her joyfully put together giant Lego bricks, stack soft blocks and construct long rows of tinker toys. When I came across the book You Can be a Woman Engineer, I not only bought a copy for my daughter knowing she wouldn't be ready to read it for several years, but also picked up a few extra copies to give out to other girls as birthday presents.
So, it is hard to overstate my excitement when I found out about Goldie Blox. Billed as a toy designed just to get girls like mine interested in engineering, I knew right away what I would be getting my little girl for her third birthday. I thought it would be irresponsible parenting not to get Goldie for my daughter, as I was sure she would love reading about Goldie and figuring out how to build a simple machine that would twirl the long, pink ribbon that comes with the set. I had high hopes that Goldie and her clever designs would be an inspiration for my daughter, that Goldie herself would be a role model. With my daughter's birthday fast approaching, I went to Child's Play, my local independent toy store, and asked where I could find Goldie Blox. Child's Play has absolutely everything, so I was sure Goldie was hiding there somewhere.
It turns out Goldie was hiding -- collecting dust behind the counter. One of the reasons I love the independent toy store where I get most of our toys is because the owners won't sell any toy they have not tried themselves. Being aware of the hype around Goldie Blox, the owners tried them out and found them lacking and decided not to carry them. But, so I could try them out for myself, one of the owners dusted off the store's sample and let me take it home for a trial run. If I liked it, he said, he might reconsider carrying the set, even though none of the other testers daughters' liked it and one of them returned the set with a note that said "Goldie Blah."
Certain that my daughter would nevertheless love Goldie, my kids and I went right home and opened the box. First we read the book that comes with the set, which my daughter and son seemed to enjoy. Then it was time to get building. We took out the blocks, the wheels and the ribbons. We got the contraption working, but my daughter declared it "so boring." I tried to regain her interest, but she was mostly interested in the little rubber dog and cat figures that come with the set. She tried to place them on top of the blocks to make them twirl, but she couldn't get them on herself and her big brother also needed my help. Once on with my assistance, the figures quickly fell off. The pink ribbon I was so sure my daughter would love wouldn't twirl unless pulled at exactly the right angle. My daughter lost interest in the set entirely after about fifteen minutes, walking off with only the miniature cat. That had to be a record in my house for least amount of time spent with a new toy. Although I had been completely caught up in the inventor's story of raising the money to bring Goldie to life through a Kickstarter campaign, after our experience, I couldn't help but wonder why she didn't have the backing of a toy company or funding through a bank.
Goldie Blox was supposed to be *the* toy that would ensure my daughter would become interested in math and engineering. I was crushed and returned the sample set to the store barely used. Luckily, I knew from watching my daughter play with other building sets that she was not a lost cause. What could I do, I asked the toy store owner, to encourage my daughter's interest in engineering in the absence of a toy she liked with a twirling pink ribbon? He showed me marble runs, Magnatiles, building blocks and Kapla blocks. "Where," he asked, "does it say these are boy toys?" Nowhere, of course. Nowhere. Although we have some of these toys, as open minded as I think I am, I still considered most of them as belonging to my son. But, a blond girl named Goldie and pink parts alone not make a great toy for girls and, sadly, Goldie Blox is not a magic potion for encouraging girls to play with engineering toys.
A Facebook post revealed that another friend felt duped into buying a Goldie Blox set for his daughter, who also didn't like it. A friend, who works for the New York City Department of Eduction reacted to his daughter's disappointment in Goldie Blox by saying his purchase was "[s]ort of a cautionary tale; it is very unlikely that we will be able to buy our way to equality." He followed-up by saying that the owner of Goldie Blox is "cynically enlisting us in a feel-good marketing scheme." It is only thanks to the honesty of my local toy store that I was prevented from being sucked into the scheme myself and realized before parting with my cash that the brilliant marketing scheme did not have a brilliant toy behind it.
While some girls may adore Goldie Blox, it's become starkly to clear to others that simply buying the set will not magically turn our daughters into girls who excel in problem-solving. Toys that will hold my daughter's interest and encourage her imagination, regardless of the color, are the key to starting her on a path to being interested in mathematics and perhaps one day following in her grandfather's footsteps and becoming an engineer. It is also up to me as her mother to demonstrate that everything boys can do girls can do too.
Since returning Goldie, I have a renewed commitment to getting on the floor with my daughter and showing her how things other than cookies made. We've begun building more houses out of blocks. Though using Magnatiles to build a car for her little family of dolls, she discovered how two triangles make a square. I'll be asking my daughter for more input on how we should build our marble runs and ask for her opinion on how to solve the problems building *really high* marble runs always creates. It's now on my summer bucket list to take a couple of my daughter's favorite books and try to build some scenes from them with the fantastic, although non-pink, building toys we already have. Of course the Mom and the Sister from her doll house doll set will be the lead engineer and architect.
The last time we were in Child's Play, my daughter sat herself down in front of a bin of straws and connectors and declared "I want to build." Sure, it would be nice if some of those straws were pink, but since it's a good toy the color doesn't really matter to her. It's fun with endless possibilities and that's why she wants to play with it. On the way out, we passed a display of Magnatiles and my daughter declared that she wanted her *own* Magnatiles for her birthday. She'll be getting a very large box of them to call her own and I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing she'll be just fine without Goldie.