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LEGO Friends vs. LEGO Education: What’s the lesson here?


“Those aren’t real LEGO minifigs!” my son said, as he watched a commercial for the new LEGO Friends line. “What do you mean?” I asked. “They aren’t real minifigures. That’s not what LEGOs look like!” His brother shook his head in literal disbelief as he watched. “I know a lot of girls who would not like those LEGOs,” he said somberly when the commercial was through.

After reading so much online about LEGO Friends, I had decided to show my sons the commercial on YouTube. We don’t have TV, so they didn’t know much about the line – even though they are avid LEGO fans. My sons build with LEGOs everyday. Everyday. They build with their cousins whenever they can.  Tomorrow we will be at our local library for the LEGO “Build and Learn Together” Club. There girls and boys build and learn together – using a wide range of multi-colored LEGO bricks.

My sons aren’t the only ones who think LEGO Friends is a bad idea. Objections have been raised all over the Internet, and I thank  Marketing, Media and Childhood for capturing the essence of many of these comments – check out this Lego Friends Roundup. There are at least two petitions to the LEGO company -  one petition by New Moon Girls, and one by the founders of the SPARK Movement. And you can read LEGO Group’s tepid response released yesterday.

Last night Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girls hosted a  #GirlsNow Tweet chat to talk about the LEGO Friends.  Lots of food for thought. Some of my favorite tweets were:

Nancy_newmoon: My big question for Lego is how does the Friends set ‘Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’ ? #girlsnow

Nancy_newmoon: The emphasis in the Friends set is on girls’ appearance and girls’ possessions – not on what they can imagine & build. #girlsnow

DrRobyn: Do you think girls would have rejected LEGOs if they included astronauts, farmers, CEOs, and researchers as roles for figures? #girlsnow

SPARKmovement: LEGO needs to meet with a diverse group of girls, parents AND researchers who can explain why this line is dangerous #girlsnow

peggyorenstein: RT @rchains: @empoweredbyplay @pinkstinksuk “pink” marks girls as the sex class. raised to be looked at & judged, not create. #girlsnow

During the Tweet chat, what really hit home for me is the disparity between the mass-marketed LEGO sets and the LEGO Education division. I’ve talked with LEGO Education reps at conferences, and have heard from them that there is no connection between LEGO Education and the LEGOs you see in toy stores and on TV. LEGO Education actually does a great job including girls in their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) products and curricula. On the LEGO Education website, you will see girls building, problem solving and creating – alongside their male peers. Female science teachers give testimonials alongside their male counterparts. The LEGO sets themselves are gender neutral and even the cartoon LEGO characters Jack and Jill represent both genders. LEGO Education isn’t perfect, but in terms of messages regarding gender as it relates to science, math, technology, problem solving and creativity it is miles ahead of what we see from LEGO in the stores and on TV.

Of course it all comes down to the mighty dollar, and LEGO Friends is all about that. LEGO saw an opportunity and went for it. And make money, they will. That’s because not all parents are upset. Many parents are thrilled to have an alternative to Bratz dolls and Monster High dolls. And when you compare LEGO Friends to the vamped up Bratz and Monster High, you can see how LEGO Friends will appeal to some parents. Still, I am personally disappointed with LEGO. On one hand, they have a young girl dressed up as an astronaut to advertise their LEGO Bricks in Space program (in conjunction with NASA) and on the other hand they have automatically switched their female LEGO Club magazine subscribers to the newly launched pastel “LEGO Club Girls” – a magazine heavy on the purple and pink and light on building instructions. Here is more on that from the unhappy UK blogger who  writes “Lego Club membership – are you a girl, or are you normal?”

I’ll be writing my own letter to the LEGO group about the disparity between their divisions and my latest disappointment with them. Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to explain it all to my sons as I struggle myself to try to figure out – what is the lesson here?











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