Tag Archives: legos

Lego Research Institute scientist set is now available

Yay, they are finally here!  The Lego set that has a female paleontologist, chemist, and astronomer is now on the Lego website.  I wrote about them a while back and I’m happy to say that less than two months later they are already on the market.

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More to follow when my set arrives.  It says age 10 and up, so apparently I will have to assist my kiddo with building these… oh, darn, I have to play with Legos!

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Legos – Soon to be Even More Awesome?

When I was a kid – you know, way back in the day – Legos weren’t considered a ‘boy’ toy.  They were just toys.  I remember spending hours on end building giant lego cities in the living room with my siblings (three girls, one boy in our family).  The generic yellow-faced mini-figs could be boys or girls, a distinction usually made by putting on a different hat or plastic wig.

I always thought of Legos as part of the ‘building toy’ category, about as gender-neutral as you could get.  I mentally lumped them in with wooden blocks, Tinker Toys, bristle blocks, Brio trains, Lincoln Logs, marble works, and the like.  These were toys for boys and girls, young and old, limited only by imagination and frequently used together (if you didn’t know, the small lego wheels work really well on wooden Brio and Thomas train tracks!).

Back when Legos didn’t have to be pink for girls to be allowed to play

This mental image of Legos being for everybody is part of why I was so horrified when I realized that, sometime between my youth and my daughter being born, Legos somehow became “boy” toys.  When and how, I have no idea.  But it happened.  And then we got “girl” Legos when someone complained that girls weren’t playing with Legos as much (probably because some jerk told them their whole lives that they couldn’t).

These “girl” Legos are a tragedy, in my book.  The series is called “Lego Friends” and they supposedly cater to how girls like to play – more story-oriented, and in mostly what I think of as Easter colors (pink, purple, pastels).  Some of the sets are named things like Dolphin Cruise, Juice Bar, Pet Salon, Downtown Bakery, Flower Stand, and there’s even a beauty parlor.  Because heaven forbid a girl should play with the truly awesome Star Wars legos or something.

Lego Beach House – because someone has to invite Malibu Barbie over to play?

There’s been a good bit of backlash against this weird division of Legos into “his and hers” categories.  There’s the viral story of the little girl who wrote the angry letter to Lego asking why there were no cool female mini figs  – you know, the kind who do stuff like work in STEM fields.

The good news is, Lego has started listening.  A contest to design new mini figs resulted in a winning entry for three new female legos: chemist, astronaut, and paleontologist.

I totally want build with the Lego dinosaur bones

This is a big step in the right direction for Lego and for the ridiculously gender-separated toy industry in general.  I hope these get a tremendous amount of support and sales and continue to send the message to the industry that girls need and want something beyond the pink aisle.

What are your favorite Legos or memories of playing with Legos?  Would you ever have thought of them as ‘gendered’ toys?  What STEM field would you like to see a mini figure for?

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Movie Review: The Lego Movie

Lots of people warned me about the song, so I sort of knew what I was getting into with The Lego Movie.  I was not prepared, though, for multiple kids to be shouting, “Everything is awesome!” at the tops of their little lungs in the parking lot as we all walked back to our cars, and their horrified parents tried to shush them.   It’s really that much of an earworm.  And yes, it is certainly still running through my head as I write this.

Crazy addictive song aside, it was a good movie.  I think I enjoyed it more than my daughter did, because most of the fun one-liners and cultural references sailed right over her head.  As usual, the things in the movie that scared her dumbfounded me.  She sat through a solid ten minutes of heroes-being-chased-by-bad-guys-with-lots-of-shooting with no problem, but freaked out when they discovered a tracking device on the hero, wailing “What’s wrong with him?”

I love that the 1980s space lego guy got to be an important character.  I love anything voiced by Morgan Freeman.  And I love Legos.  So this movie was something I went into expecting to like, at least a little.  The ‘life lessons’ and ‘good triumphing over evil’ portions that are obligatory in an PG-or-less rated movie were presented with a little too much saccharine for my taste, but it definitely could have been worse.   The love story subplot was particularly sickly sweet, but at least had the comic relief of Batman.

This is a very visually stimulating movie, something that always gets bonus points in my book.  The various Lego worlds and the things the master builders put together are, to quote the song, awesome.  The voice actors are great, and you will hear many familiar voices.  The Star Wars actors actually voicing their Star Wars characters (Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Anthony Daniels as C3PO) was an especially nice touch.  The standout by far was Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop.  Such a great character and really well voiced.

The plot was fairly predictable, but with enough little twists and comedic asides to make it stiff fun to watch.  For the parents who grew up loving and playing with Legos, the movie has a lot of nice nostalgia moments.  This is also a movie I could certainly watch again, which is a lot more than I can say about the last two movies we saw together (The Nut Job and Walking With Dinosaurs).  Overall, PG movies don’t get much better than this.

But seriously, you will never, ever, ever get that song out of your head.  Don’t say no one warned you.

What did you think of it?

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Encouraging a Budding Architecht

My daughter loves to build.  I mean really loves to build.  It started with tower-building, where she would build these precariously stacked towers taller than she was – and I still have no idea how she ever managed to get them to stay up.  Even built four feet high, tilted on the edge of a rug and slanting sideways all the way up, she could get the darned things to stand.  At least until the dog came by and knocked them down, after which there would be a brief period of outraged wailing, followed shortly by a new tower.

Gradually her repertoire expanded from towers to castles, castles to cities.  Mega Bloks gave way to my old set of Duplos, and the colorful small set of Melissa & Doug wood blocks was supplemented by a set of Mad Scientist alphabet blocks and a bigger, plain wood set of Melissa & Doug blocks.  We’re just about ready to move on to regular legos, so watch out world.

Almost anything can be added to a block city - even old berry baskets and hippos!

Almost anything can be added to a block city – even old berry baskets and hippos!

It warms my heart that she loves to build so much.  She has this amazing single-minded intensity when she is building things.  So with her fourth birthday coming up, I’m very excited to see what she makes of the latest additions she’s going to get to unwrap: Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys.  These were some of my childhood favorites that I was very pleased to discover have made a comeback.

Playing with building toys is a great way to encourage valuable skills in kids that are applicable in so many areas.  While my relatives and I joke that my daughter’s current building obsession must mean she will grow up to be an architect or construction worker someday, I’m really just happy that there’s an activity she likes so much that has many long-term benefits.  Building is great for spacial orientation, balance, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and planning skills.  And blocks can even be dual-hatted and used for teaching counting, ordering by size, shapes, pattern-making, and geometry.

I remember building massive lego cities as a kid, and can’t wait to do that again with my daughter (yes, I may have some ulterior motives here… there could perhaps be eventual purchases of lego sets that are things I always wanted as a kid!).  It never even occurred to me as a kid, playing with my sisters and brother and friends, that legos weren’t anything but a unisex toy.  I’ll save the new “girl” legos for another post, maybe sometime when I have had a good day and a couple glasses of wine and can talk about it calmly and rationally instead of ranting.

I also like that building toys are one of the better types of toys for playing across a span of ages.  Older kids and younger kids, parents and children, crazy uncles and grandparents – everyone can play together with these toys.   Well, when you can get the kids to share, at least.  And they are definitely a more grownup-friendly form of play for me.  I can only do so much pretending to eat plastic-food meals my kid has prepared, but I’m happy to build with her for a good long while.

And a lot of adults still play with these toys – just look at Lego conventions and competitions.  But professionals use them as work tools, too.  I remember being stunned when, as an undergraduate working a summer internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I discovered a drawerful of legos, k’nex, and Tinkertoys.  I needed something to demonstrate how an attachment mechanism on the space station moves, in order for someone to make a computer animation of it.  I had been attempting to make a moving model out of paper clips, erasers, and rolled up notebook paper.

Instead, my supervisor took me over to a nondescript cabinet, pulled it open, and showed me the toys inside.  He said it was common for engineers to use these things to demonstrate moving parts and play with new ideas.  That was the first time I realized that engineering was so very much more than the academic side I was so immersed in.  Engineering was about creatively making things work.  It’s also a job where no one will bat an eyelash if you play with legos at work.  I was sold – I had definitely picked the right major.

So I encourage you to encourage your kids to play with these types of toys.  They are sturdy, and can last through several generations of kids.  My parents kept our wooden blocks and Duplos and now the grandkids use them.  They are fun, simple, and good for group play across ages and generations.  And you never know when getting down on the floor to build a block tower or create a lego battle scene will give just the right spark to a budding young architect, engineer, astronaut, artist, or construction foreman.

What were your favorite building toys as a kid?  Have any recommendations on the latest and greatest, or fond memories of great building-toy achievements?

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