The Critical Concept You Need to Work into Your Children’s Product To ‘Make It’ in 2017
Education and a society’s labor needs have a long relationship of supporting one another. We saw it first in the industrial revolution when demand for factory workers fueled the decision to make education government-funded and open to the public for the first time in Western history. This transformed school from a place for the wealthy to study classical subjects, to preparing children for a life of middle-class work, highlighting memorization and meticulously obeying instruction.
Until now, education has remained this way, conditioning baby boomers to train for a career, find a job, and stick with it. But now, in the modern digital boom, there is another major shift in education that can be likened to that of the industrial revolution – it’s called STEM.
STEM in the classroom supports a needed cultural shift
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM, for short) is a new program being rolled out in public schools across North America. Its main purpose is to prepare children for the changing societal landscape technology is driving – everything from what jobs will be available to children currently in school, to how we need to solve problems differently than ever before.
Jobs in the STEM fields have grown three times as fast as unrelated jobs, according to the Department of Commerce… and they’re not slowing down, with projections of the industry growing another 17 percent between 2008-18. In the next decade alone, we’re going to be short approximately one million STEM workers to meet the demands of our growing economy.
An education system that supports STEM looks a lot different than how we were taught growing up. If you were to walk into a classroom that practices these principles, you’d see a ton of hands-on learning, getting messy and “learning to doing, not by rote memorization,” writes Crystal Yednak, freelance writer and mom of two. They also focus on collaborative work, often sitting in groups of desks to encourage conversation; use technology for testing and note-taking; and learn how to integrate the ideas they’re learning into other subjects like language, history and art.
“We use our own data and discovery to realize a concept,” says Jennifer Bailey, a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. “Teachers are not just telling us [the information].”
Parents are bringing STEM home through interactive children’s toys
Formal curriculums aren’t the only area affected by STEM education. The toy industry is also undergoing a major shift from props (think plastic food or dolls) to highly interactive products. ‘Creation toys’ like making necklaces or painting a model car have existed for a long time, but now with the introduction of STEM concepts, technology is being incorporated into this category. One example of this is the rising popularity of 3D printers and pens in children’s toys. These devices combine science and technology with creativity and play.
One key innovator in this field is Amazon, as they continue to blaze the path for the future of retail. “On an almost weekly basis, it seems like we hear about something that Amazon is up to that sounds like a wild and crazy idea that just might work,” writes Dan O’Shea, contributing editor at RetailDive.
Noticing the rise in this toy trend, Amazon has launched a subscription box to introduce STEM products to consumer’s children. STEM Club is a “monthly program that delivers handpicked, high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math toys to your door at a great price,” states their website. “Each month you will receive a different, age-appropriate STEM toy that will encourage your child to learn through play. From robotics to natural sciences, there’s always a new discovery on the way.”
STEM toys will be chosen from a pre-approved list of exclusive Amazon products, and will be tailored to the child’s age group (which consumers indicate upon sign-up).
Integrating STEM principles into your brand’s products is imperative if you want to stay on parent’s radar as a useful children’s product. Here are a couple questions to begin thinking about where your product fits into the future of children’s retail:
- Does my toy aid in the development of children’s creativity and technical skills?
- How does my product affect the worldview of its users?
- Which piece of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math does my product utilize? How can I make this clearer to customers?
- Can children use my toy with their peers? Is it an impactful collaborative toy?
*Image via Amazon