Recently there has been a lot of chatter on the web about the new line of Lego designed for girls. Here and here are two of the many articles that I have read. Most of the articles question the gender stereotyping and argue that girls like ‘boy’ themed Lego too. Yesterday Lego released this response.
My complaint isn’t related to gender specific themes – and I’m not alone. You see, it was about eight months ago that I added ‘Lego’ to my list of blog post ideas. The subject came up when we had a drainage issue with our main sewer line and called Roto Rooter.
I’ll give you a moment to try and figure out how those two things are related…..
Did you guess that Lego was causing the blockage? Wrong. The topic of Lego came up when the Roto Rooter service tech went down to the basement and noticed this;
I have a 10 foot long by 4 foot high wall of bins that store the toys that are not currently in use. The Lego bins are here because the pieces are too small for the infants and toddlers so I cannot leave it out in the main playroom. However, the Lego is often chosen by the older children as a quiet time activity when the little ones are napping.
The Roto Rooter tech could hardly contain his excitement. He wanted to buy my Lego from me. He explained that he had a young son and wanted to start building a collection of Lego for him to use when he was older. He complained that he had been unable to find ‘real’ Lego – the kind he grew up with – without a ‘theme’. Lego that you can build with.
For those of you who don’t already know, I have five children ranging in age from 17 to 29. I opened my family childcare home 15 years ago. I have accumulated, and kept, a wide variety of ‘good’ toys. My initial licensing coordinator said my home was better equipped than some childcare centres. I browse educational toys and supplies online and at conference trade shows but I haven’t been to a ‘toy’ store in a very long time.
So, I made a point of wandering through toy departments and visiting big toy stores to see what is available. I was astounded – and not in a good way. With the exception of a few small toys for infants I saw absolutely nothing with any real play value. I know there are good toys out there but apparently they are not being stocked on toy store shelves. All the Lego had some sort of theme. Even on the Lego website there are very few basic sets.
When I was a child, Lego was the ultimate toy. It topped my Christmas and birthday lists every year. I never got any because it was ‘too expensive’. I did get some red and white Lego wannabes but they were made of a soft plastic and were easily distorted so they never really fit together properly. They were so frustrating and I vowed that my children would get real Lego.
Building with Lego continues to be one of my favourite activities. When I bring out my Lego bins for the children I cannot resist joining in. However, the thing I find disconcerting is that very few children today – girls or boys – are prepared to build with Lego. They are accustomed to using the themed sets. They put the scenes together once – according to the instruction sheet – and then use it to re-enact a specific story.
Sometimes, when they first see my Lego bins there is a moment of stunned silence.
‘Where are the instructions?”
I threw them out, along with any specialty pieces that couldn’t be used for more than one purpose. I also don’t have any Lego characters — if you want people you have to build them. The children watch me build things. They try to copy what I make. They gasp when I take it apart.
‘What if you can’t remember how you made it?’
Eventually they create something of their own. After a while they begin to work together and make things like ‘Lego Llama’.
Who was the mascot for all of Llamaland and a whole series of adventures that needed no instructions at all. It was built by children using their own imagination and creativity.
Lego for girls vs. Lego for boys isn’t the problem. I think Lego may have forgotten what they were good at. Instead of being the best construction set ever, they have become action figure wannabes.