Engineering with Barbie®


*This post was sponsored by Mattel and Tynker. As both a teacher and mother, the opinions are completely my own based on my experience.*

Here’s a little known fact about me.

As a child, I was absolutely CRAZY for Barbie® dolls. My older sister and I played with them for hours on end, designing elaborate scenes like classrooms and grocery stores and offices for them to play in. My dad built us a “mansion” out of stacks of wooden cubbies, and we decorated each room with wallpaper and handmade furniture. In fact, the little rooms, furniture, and props that we created for our dolls was the part we loved most.  We named our dolls after our favorite role models….teachers and gymnasts and rock stars…and played out adventures for each one.

Even as I grew older, when we were beginning to outgrow playing with dolls, my best friend, Kambra, and I never failed to squeeze in some time playing with our Barbie dolls.  It was a world we could escape to that allowed us to stop growing up for a bit…to imagine anything, design anything, and be anything we wanted.

Now that I’m a mother to my seven year old daughter, Ellie, I relish our playtime now more than ever. In a world that is constantly pushing her to grow up too fast, Barbie dolls help her imagine, play, and seek ways to make the world better.  Similar to her mother, she has a passion for engineering, coding, and science, but also has a flair for dramatic play and impressive eye for creative design. When we learned that Barbie had released a Robotics Engineer for their 2018 Career of the Year doll, we were both over-the-moon excited!

Barbie for the Next Generation 

As a STEM teacher, I have a huge passion for fostering an early interest in engineering for my Kindergarten, First, and Second Graders, more specifically my little girls.  I also teach the foundations of coding through a variety of apps, websites, and robotics toys. Did you know that by the year 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer programming jobs and only 400,000 students to fill those jobs? (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) Additionally, computer programming and STEM fields are disproportionately dominated by males.

As teachers and parents, we have a unique opportunity to open new doors of possibility for our young girls, and what better way to inspire them than a Barbie doll that inspires them to be a Robotics Engineer?! Complete with a laptop, robot, goggles, and edgy outfit, the new Career of the Year Barbie doll is the perfect representation of the next generation of girls, showing them that they are more than smart enough, capable enough, and cool enough to pursue a STEM career.

Representation matters significantly in both children’s books and toys. If we are encouraging our little girls to grow up and be anything they choose, they need to be able to “see themselves” in their Barbie dolls.  This is why I absolutely love that the new Career of the Year doll is available in four different hair/skin colors. As a young girl, I remember always gravitating to the “Theresa” doll because of her dark hair and olive skin.  My blond, blue-eyed daughter, of course, reached right for the blond Barbie doll, but she also couldn’t wait to open the brunette as well because she has features similar to mine.

This part was actually my favorite, and I can’t say I was surprised.  Ellie has always been more preoccupied with “setting the stage” for her dolls and toys than actually playing with them.  After she opened her new Barbie dolls, without any sort of suggestion from me, she immediately set to work creating a home for them.  She cut out pictures from the backs of the doll boxes, grabbed the shipping box and an additional Amazon box from the garage, and then spend the entire afternoon designing a two story Makerspace for them, complete with a ladder, sleeping loft, work desk, and tiny crafting tools made out of model magic.  I even had to bring her with me to go work in my classroom for a couple hours and she brought all her stuff with her to finish her design.

More that any other part of her, this is the part of Ellie’s personality that I recognize myself in…the designer and maker. And this is the part that I encourage most in her.  I want her to grow older knowing that she can be anything, make anything, and do anything she sets her mind to.

Programming with Barbie and Tynker

The new Robotics Engineer Barbie doll also pairs with the Tynker coding site, and we were so excited to give this a try! Ellie has been coding on a foundational level since she was four, and although it isn’t her favorite piece of STEM, she loves it anytime she gets to use her creative design skills.

The new Barbie You Can Be Anything programming experience by Tynker allow children to choose from six different careers to explore basic coding skills. As a teacher, this is a wonderfully inviting way to introduce coding to my students in the fall as we explore our multiple intelligences.  I can anticipate my “music smart” students being attracted to the musician coding game,  “nature smart” students preferring the farmer or beekeeper, and “logic smart” students loving the astronaut or robotics engineer roles.  My daughter, being extremely “spatial/picture” smart, couldn’t wait to try the pastry chef career.  She actually hopes to be a baker when she grows up and loves to watch cake competition shows on The Food Network!

Ellie will be in second grade in the fall, so I knew she would need some guidance getting started with the pastry chef game.  As with all websites and apps, I always play around with them for quite a bit on my own before introducing them to my students.  There is a tutorial on the lefthand side that walks through each of the coding steps, and once we did it together several times, she was hooked. I explained to her that many of the apps she plays have decorating features like this, but none of them would “work” without all the coding behind them. (In my class, we call this coding “conditions.”) I explained that we can’t decorate the cake until we code each decoration to make it “work.” After coding about half of the decorations as a stamper tool, she set to work designing all kinds of beautiful cakes!

Overall, my daughter and I love our new Barbie Robotics Engineers dolls and the You Can Be Anything programming experience from Tynker. It is toys and sites like these that fill me with hope and excitement for the future of our young girls in STEM fields.