We’ve heard a lot about STEM toys, which are so hot right now. Their focus is on teaching kids science, technology, engineering, and math so they can eventually become very rich and take care of us when we are old and frail. Just kidding! (Mostly!)
FollowGrams is a smart projector currently available to back Kickstarter for $75, self-described as “an app-connected STEM toy that teaches kids how to draw pictures, letters and numbers in a fun hands-on experience.” It’s basically one step above a light box, which lets you trace over artwork, or that Magic Tracer toy that aired on TV infomercials in the ‘90s. (I wanted it so badly but my mom was wary of giving her credit card information over the phone, so that was an unfulfilled dream. Reading the Amazon reviews for it now though, a customer reported that the shoddy toy broke her grandson’s heart and “brought him to tears,” so maybe it wasn’t all that well-made.)
The FollowGrams app can also apply filters to photos kids take, and project it onto paper which they can then draw over. It uses Bluetooth to connect to Android, iPhone, and Amazon devices.
This is all good and fine, but my big question is, why market a kids’ art projector as a STEM toy? Yes, STEM is a trendy buzzword you can throw in your promotional copy and it’s important, especially for young girls, to feel encouraged to pursue science and math careers — but why try to market a product as something it’s not? Why are we so afraid to let our kids become artists? Despite the fact that I, a comic artist when I am not working at The Verge dot com, am constantly writhing on the ground lamenting “Why didn’t I just become an engineer” every night before a deadline, I still think being an artist is a worthwhile career option that kids should have the opportunity to explore!
All this led me to a new discovery, called STEAM. The Rhode Island School of Design has an initiative called STEM to STEAM in which they champion adding art and design to STEM research. I’m into it, but sounds like a lot of pressure for kids to be impossibly well-balanced! Still, emphasis on hitting as many educational disciplines as possible seems less limiting than focusing on just some that we think are better than others.