back to article It's Lego's 80th birthday party, but only the boys are invited

Imagination-fostering Lego is 80 years old this month and far from its roots as a creativity-inspiring construction toy for girls and boys. Way back in 1932, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish joiner and carpenter, found he wasn't making enough money from carpentry anymore and decided to try making and selling wooden toys instead …

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My daughter will sit and play with my old Lego for hours, building all manner of things, from houses to cars, without any prompting from me. But then she is also quite happy to get covered in oil helping me fix my Land Rover, so maybe the environment she grew up in was against her :-)

She is, however, definitely not a "tomboy", as she has the usual fascination for all the pink tat that is nowadays thrown at young girls, and the usual clothes, makeup etc that is "normal" for a girl of her age.

On another note, when I was young I used to have some lego-like construction bricks which belonged to my dad, which were made of a type of rubber, rather than hard plastic. Anyone else have anything similar?

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>On another note, when I was young I used to have some lego-like construction bricks which belonged to my >dad, which were made of a type of rubber, rather than hard plastic. Anyone else have anything similar?

I remember those - one of my friends had a set. Buggered if I can remember what it was called though.

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Anonymous Coward

Montini? (Italian, rubbery plastic, same format as Lego).

There is a completely different system called Bayko, seems to be 1930s-1960s, which makes very nice looking buildings (with architectural features typical of that period) - but not vehicles or anything else. .

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Anonymous Coward

Possibly Minibrix.

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@ AC

>>Possibly Minibrix

Yep! That's them

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Anonymous Coward

Stickle bricks?

as title

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1982 ad...

That plane is going to bomb, 1944 style, the crap out of that 'train/village people entrapment vehicle.

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MrT
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Childcatcher

Anything other than Technics...

... was a 'toy' in most non-bricksters' minds. I remember buying some of that new-fangled LEGO Space stuff back in the 80's (some kit with a cruiser and drive-out buggy plus three LEGOnauts), long after leaving school. The lady on the till in Woolies said "Aw, it's great to buy birthday presents" and I very nearly said "But it's not my birthday" before realising...

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Anonymous Coward

sample of one

well two, actually - a girl of 8 and boy of 6. Our daughter definitely prefers "crafty" to "constructive" toys despite my hope that she would be grabbed by the idea of building stuff. Her most recent toy purchases was one of the 'Friends' sets but I was disappointed that she didn't go on to raid the Lego box to build a house for the little plastic princess. She definitely prefers 2D and fantasy, while our son prefers 3D and facts... they're almost stereotypically girl and boy, and have been since they were toddlers.

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Mushroom

"Single use" pieces?

Not sure what the hell a "single use piece" is exactly. A far as I'm aware, there ARE no single use pieces. There are certainly special pieces, but they can be used in more than just one way. I seem to remember as a kid, the front shovels from two lego JCB sets being used to form the side of a submarine

I'd suggest that the real issue here, isn't these lego pieces themselves, but a lack of imagination on the part of those complaining.

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Boffin

Re: "Single use" pieces?

While there's no theoretical impediment to reusing even the weirdest pieces, I think that the following post makes a fairly convincing argument that /some/ pieces should never have been made:

http://www.howtospotapsychopath.com/2008/07/31/the-worst-lego-piece-ever-made/

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Alert

Re: "Single use" pieces?

Hmm....I see the axle pegs and wish I had a whole load of those to connect together with technic bricks, for munging together some sort of space ship.

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Boffin

Re: "Single use" pieces?

There's nothing wrong with that, it'd make a great core piece for a larger model. Just off the top of my head (and in 12-year-old mode) I could use it as the central piece of a model of the Ro-Busters' rescue ship (Starlord/2000AD) The pegs would fit into the front and back sections which could then split off.

http://mangamax-aieeee.blogspot.co.uk/2011_03_01_archive.html

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Re: "Single use" pieces?

The Palm Tree fronds from the PotC sets will pretty much only do palm tree fronds, though the can sprout from odd places

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Headmaster

Re: "Single use" pieces?

I think there are 2 ways to use Lego, "creative" and "constructive". "Single use" would probably apply to either special creative parts or sometimes very very limited constructive parts (like an angle your not likely to need).

Thankfully the balance seems to be back in keeping enough of each and not too much of either.

I agree that imagination can help with the creative parts, but not much with the construction ones that don't fit anything else. However I'd guess most people think about the construction first, so if they see a weird shaped creative part, it would be confusing. :P

Oh, here is an amazing link for creative use of Lego (they failed to get a job at Lego though, probably because they use unconventional stacking methods).

http://fav.me/d4w0w5v

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Single use" pieces?

That "Worst piece".

I'm looking at it and thinking, it could've been good as a chassis for a crane or a digger or a lorry of some sort. Possibly even a boat with wheels to allow it to be pushed across the room (vs. the Pilot boat which just had smoothed over flattish 2x2 pieces on the bottom. And I know the bigger cargo boats were actually watertight!)

I had all sorts of 1 piece chassis pieces, mostly the 2x2->3x4->2x2 where the 2x2s had axles, but also a couple of 1x4 -> 2x2 (axle-less) -> 4x4 (with lowered centre) -> 2x2 -> 1x4 which came from the yellow 'City Car' and the blue 'TV Van'.

They were useful as a guide to the size of a car / van that a lego person could sit in. Usually needing a couple of flat 1x3s under the doors, the windscreen (not the flat windscreen from the sports car / motorbike trailer set) and a rear frame / roof combo (with optional sunroof).

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Re: "Single use" pieces?

I never managed to build a boat that didn't leak :( I even tried filling all the gaps with blue-tack which was a bugger to clear up.

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Best article

This is one of the best articles on the Register I have ever read. Well written, supported and tragically relevant. I would love to see it taken up and reported on by more mainstream media. It's painfully insightful and I hope the people at Lego are made aware of it and read many of the intelligent comments here as well.

Thank you for writing this.

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WTF?

Re: Best article - WTF?

For one thing, the article is horribly out of date. LEGO's 80th passed months ago and all the outrage over the 'Friends' line (which has been an enormous success) was at the start of the year when they first sets were launched.

For another, it's a lot of rubbish. The Friends set not only require as much building as any other LEGO set* but also are some of the more innovate build experiences you can get these days. They are, typically, more "modular" though so you can build them in stages (or more easily share the building with friends) and play with the bits you've built as you go along because that was one of the things a lot of girls wanted (that same modular approach is also common in City sets). The real "outrage" was supposed to be the figures, after extensive surveying by LEGO concluded that one of the key problems with girls opinions of traditional sets like Lego City was that they want 'more realistic' people than the traditional LEGO minifigure. The rate at which Friends sets fly of the shelf seems to confirm that theory.

And if you really just want a "bucket of bricks", you'll find several varieties of those available too.

*Yes, there are some large wall pieces in some of the big sets. You will find those *exact* same pieces in larger sets like Jabba the Hutt's palace too (which is supposedly for boys). Larger wall panels have, in fact, been found in sets since the Castle sets of the early 80s. You'll also find some of the smallest pieces available in there too.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Best article - WTF?

Cab't help but agree on the Friends sets success and usefulness.

My daughter (who turns four in a couple of months) spent an entire week constantly looking through the little promo catalogue for the Friends sets. It just instantly appeals to little girls, or so it would seem from my daughters reaction.

If she still wants these sets when she's old enough for them, then I'll happily buy them. If it's a toy that constantly encourages her to create new things, use her imagination and tests her ingenuity; then I don't care what colour it is, or how the Lego traditonalists view it as a bad thing.

With that said, I myself will stick with my 1980's Classic Space sets and technic :)

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Re: Best article - WTF?

In response to Binarydad, you'll know your daughter best, but nearly four is perfectly old enough to be playing with proper Lego - they've become incredibly conservative in their age guidelines and my daughter has been happily constructing the smaller Creator kits since around her third birthday (she'd helped her mother build the Christmas toy Shop) - my daughter needs a little help with the fiddlier bits and with reading the instructions, but that just means that Dad gets to play too...

I'd echo those who are saying Lego has rowed back from the brink with the reduction in stupid, big pieces - some of the newest models use standard bricks in some really rewarding ways, even in 'standard' City kits.

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Unhappy

Re: Best article - WTF?

@BinaryDad wrote: If she still wants these sets when she's old enough for them, then I'll happily buy them.

Buy Lego now! My daughter built the Winter Village Toy Shop http://www.brickset.com/detail/?Set=10199-1 when she was four years and eleven months old, and that's marked as a 12+. Mind you she now has over 300 minifigures, so here be dragons (and crocodiles, and kittens, and goats even).

Annoyingly, she also likes the Friends figures, even though she says "they're not as good as the minifigures". I've tried to explain how sexist she is, but she'd only six and doesn't seem to get it.

As for Lego, their sexist City range can at least be populated by the slightly more varied collectible minifigure series. But why we need dayglo pet grooming Friends products when the City line could have a female Vet, Doctor, Garden Centre or Architect I don't know.

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love LEGO but ...

I loved the little packs when they came out (I remember a little pirate set, especially, and one with a wizard and a dragon) but I was already well into adulthood by then; when I was but a wee lad it was Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. OMG, I suddenly feel so old, I think I'll have a bit of a lay down now.

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Odd

Strangely enough, I was the one that constructed all manner of crafts, buildings, cities while my brother used lego as missiles. My father would try and encourage him to engage with him in building all manner of things but the boy wasn't interested while I'd pick up the bits and see how things could be constructed (without instructions or pictures as he had torn them up).

My brother ended up being a burly strapping policeman while my sister and I ended up in technology. Together we managed to escape the gender role pressures.

My own children, two girls and a boy all created things with equal enthusiasm using all manner of materials and played with all manner of things while enjoying their little selves. That was in the 1980s when the gender stereotyping pressure started to ease off, or so we thought.

Seems that we haven't progressed, but somehow we have slipped back into the 1950s sexual stereotyping, which is most unhealthy and unhelpful. Is it due to a failing economy, or the media brainwashing that the masses are being subjected to with the "pink-girlie-sparklie" images like "certain celebrities" being pressed upon females. I found it much worse coming back to the UK from Holland, where people were treated equally and the emphasis on people developing their own personality.

My sister lives in Denmark and it seems that they don't have the same marketing approach for the Danish market, which is closer to the Dutch than the British profile. I wonder if the same results have been found in Holland.

Probably not.

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Anonymous Coward

I blame Lego

Modern "archittecture" is abominable: the vast majority of buildings are Lego-like rectangular blocks of cement and glass, complete with flat roofs and apparently made from identical kits. They look ugly, are inhuman in scale and look shoddy within a couple of years of completion.

I theorise that this is because the modern "architect" spent his or her childhood playing with Lego and so formed rather dull ideas about how buildings should look and be built. Even if there is a proper roof or some sort of variation on blank concrete and glass walls, very often the details are still jagged, as if constrained by the shape of Lego blocks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I blame Lego

Nope. It's the type of construction and savings on cost that causes the squareness. Lego allows you to make all kinds of shapes, and I did just that!

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Sad....

Rather sad that that a great opportunity for an 80 year Lego retrospective instead became a feminist rant.

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Anonymous Coward

some of the kits seem to cross over the gender boundaries

I have two girls, ages 8 and 6, and they both love lego sets. In fact we enrolled them in a summer Lego class. They really like the old kits I used to have (from the '70s), and they like the new kits with all of the specialized pieces.

For some reason when I was a kid all of my legos used to end up as cars or rockets. My daughters' end up as houses or farms. Granted some of that is due to the kits they gravitated towards. Now they're asking for "Olivia's House" and that looks like it will have even more specialized bricks.

They do manage to turn them into other things and configurations. Last week they built me a Lego-sized!

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Anonymous Coward

Lego-sized pub!

somehow my words got dropped - last week my girls built me a lego-sized PUB!

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Coat

Girl Taulk

Im from the time Lego was crossing over from generic block sets to models with unique parts (70's) and I remember how cool it s when I finally got some jet engines in a helicopter set so my spaceships could get away from the long single wide pieces as engines.

As for girls, my daughter is 11 and on a trip to visit her grandfather in Florida, her one request was a visit to Lego land there. She spent $40 of her own money on LotR Legos because she thought the spider looked really cool. Ok, maybe I'm raising a Wednesday Addams but still, she loves all the Star Wars, Batman, and LotR sets. Not sure how Lego would market to girls with these sets; she just likes 'cool' stuff. Same goes with comic books: another male bastion. She loves the stories and does gravitate towards the female characters (Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Power Girl) but she also follows several male storylines as well (Batman, Thor, etc.). In comics she's aware enough of the marketing to boys and is quite vocal in the store when she spots a particularly suggestive cover. Who bows, she may grow up to be an executive at Lego or DC one day and decide how the marketing will be done.

Mines the one with the bloodstained 2 dot brick I just pulled from my heel.

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Go

AFOL

I'm an AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). Been one for over 10 years. I'm a founding member of our local group, see web page here: <http://www.nalug.org> (warning - slow site).

Yes, you can buy individual pieces online from Lego (look for "Pick-a-brick"). However, since there are now so many piece types and colours, only a small subset are available there. Also, they are expensive - Lego seems to sell by weight, so rare stuff is the same price as common stuff.

Yes, you can still buy boxes of just bricks, etc. without instructions. Again, however, Lego is expensive, and that's not going to change - the material itself is costly.

Competitors like Megabloks have now got their quality close to Lego's. One remaining issue is that because they use a different material (which is why they are a lot cheaper), they don't last as long - bits of it flake off when you connect the pieces.

The Friends sets seem popular here - there are rarely much of them in the stores. I haven't bought any myself, but I mainly buy sets for parts to build my own stuff. I'll repeat the mention of the "Creator" line of sets - very worthwhile - each shows 3 different projects for the parts, just like the old Technic sets did.

I don't like the new style of "lift arm" Technic sets, so don't buy them. I find them simply too hard on my fingers in this dry climate, especially for disassembly.

Play Well.

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Stop

Bionicle

One of Lego's most successful lines of all time.

My son started to get seriously interested in Lego at around the time that Bionicle kicked off. The theme and the mythology behind it was the real success behind this line. A pat on the back for whoever got that going.

Here's the thing though. You could practically tell when the bean counters and market research droids got hold of it.

Instead of releasing kits at a rate that the kids could realistically accumulate them via birthday and Christmas money, they started banging out new lines practically every month. The rate of acceleration was really quite staggering. They re-engineered the story lines to allow totally new lines and peoples thus perverting the purity of this original premise.

The whole thing imploded under its own weight...and they canned it. Unfreaking-believable.

It's now been converted to a generic "battle" series with cheaply and thinly-made generic parts that break at the drop of a hat.

Oh, while I'm on the rant, the whole Lego Universe fiasco. Draw in many thousands of kids to a rich environment where they can make friends and live the Lego experience online.....and then kill it because it wasn't making quite as much money as they would have preferred, thus truly pissing off a ton of their customers and their parents at the same time.

The people at Lego have no self respect.

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Anonymous Coward

Minecraft is an online clone of Lego

but I've just tried to order the physical Lego version of Minecraft - which is sold-out nearly everywhere on the globe! I suspect there might be a continuum paradox here .......???

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Barbie says...

Lego and vi are for wimps. Real women build with Meccano and emacs.

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Linux

Re: Barbie says...

Heresy!

it's Vi & Meccano

I miss Meccano ... The set I got as a kid slowly evaporated into various project & ad-hoc repairs

Cars, Computers etc... all ended up with various Meccano hacks in them :)

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Anonymous Coward

Subtitles

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ2xrnyH2wQ

Marketing can only do so much. Genes do the rest.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Subtitles

True, but as it "was not always this way", we tend to question WHY. It has only been the last 50 or so years (less than 100 for certain!) that there has been the divide in children's toys to such a large extent. Even pink v blue is a relatively new concept. I personally blame marketing and profit margins.

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Meh

I don't see why they think girls don't play with Lego, and need pretty pastel sets. My sister used to love the medieval Lego sets that they used to make and we used to create all manner of different things out of Lego (which we kept organized by type, not set). Then again, I've been told that my youth was unusual I used to have some of those littlest pet shop things which apparently are for girls. I honestly think it may have been my parents just not typecasting this stuff.

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Lego's 80 years old. lets write a 4 page article about how it's sexist.

So what if they create a line for girls. Girls who are interested in lego will still ask their parents for other stuff.

If you want to complain about anything, complain about how much it costs. I'm an adult earning a full wage and i still can't afford to indulge.

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Silver badge

Everyone seems to have forgotten Lego's primary purpose:

Seeing how loud you can make your father swear when he inadvertently kneels on a brick while helping you build something...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Everyone seems to have forgotten Lego's primary purpose:

Crikey.

I cringed and my palms have gone all sweaty just thinking about that.

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Anonymous Coward

Sanctimonious BS... Is the writer even familiar with LEGO sets? Because then he would know that the LEGO City sets, for example almost always feature at least one, often several female figures. And guess what, it's LEGOs! Want to have a politically correct police station with a fifty-fifty gender distribution? Just swap out the male policemens heads with female heads, and knock yourself out with policing the kids playtoys for any signs of gender bias.

Of course as anyone who actually HAS kids will know, even when you try to raise them in a gender neutral way, as soon as they get to be four or five years old, they start to develop politically incorrect interests. Boys will be interested in machinery, and girls in more complex ways of playing, based on social interaction. (and of course princesses). The difference between males and females of the species. It's one of those nasty facts of life that the PC brigades yet have to develop a solution for.

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Oh, and what's up with the whining about buckets vs. sets?

Yes, there are probably more sets available now than 10 or 20 years ago. Thank god for that, as they're also much more detailed and of higher quality.

But surely it can't have avoided the LEGO ludites attention that, ehm... Well... You can still buy LEGOs as a bucket of bricks if you so choose! (There are even several sizes available!) Sure, your creations will most likely not be nearly as detailed and impressive as those of the sets you buy, and your kids will probably think you're a sadistical weirdo for insisting you build your OWN police station, but hey... The option is there if you want it!

So let's sum up... You can STILL buy LEGOs in buckets, and no ones forcing your daughters to play with sexist LEGOs, and heck: You can even choose to make an all female LEGO city if you so choose,

What's everyone upset about, really?

(Besides the fact that kids these days have it too good, and when YOU were their age blah-blah-blah...)

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>So let's sum up... You can STILL buy LEGOs in buckets

Yes, but you cannot buy TECHNIC pieces in anything but sets these days.

In the Bad Old Days you could buy sets like these ( http://www.brickset.com/browse/themes/?theme=technic&subtheme=Supplementary ) but they're not sold any more.

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Yes, but you cannot buy TECHNIC pieces in anything but sets these days.

You can through Lego Education or by ringing Lego directly if you choose. Although it's easier and cheaper to use a third-party service like Bricklink to get exactly the pieces you want, no matter what they might be!

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I don't know if you can still get sets like 5218-1 but I liked that sort of thing. It's a bit useless in its own right but gives you a lot of handy pieces to add to other models.

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Lego IS for girls (the old Lego, anyways)

I am a 40-something female, who loved to play with Lego as a kid. I even a had a few lego technic sets, and a lego train set, of which I was very proud of. My daughter (who is four now), loves to play with her Duplo, and she will inherit my Lego sets latest next year.

I hate that there is this obvious gender bias in Lego nowadays - and lego friends is NOT an alternative for girls. But then, as has been pointed out before, gender stereo-typing has become more and more prevalent over the last few years - maybe to counteract the fact that in real life, women do what men do?

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Stolen

Wasn't lego a stolen invention from us?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiddicraft

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Happy

Nature Or Nurture?

My 4-year-old girls have "married" my son's Ninjago ninjas to their Lego Friends ladies.

Imagine coming home from a hard day's ninja-ing and having to take the little dog for a walk, or listen to the missus telling you about her day at the Heartlake muffin shop...

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Happy

I have 3 girls, oldest 9, youngest 4. The eldest has/had no real interest in Lego - though she did get a large traditional "house" set a few years back.

To my surprise, the 4 year old is mad on.... (wait for it).... Lego friends. She builds it according to the pack and then builds other things as well.

So while the article is correct about the pieces being more "set" than in the past, the fact that they are has shown my daughter what she can do and now she is pushing the bounderies - is that not what lego is all about?

BTW, Lego has never really been gender neutral - All my life they were very much "boy" oriented and you would always find it in the boy section of the toy shop. The advent of Lego space in the early 80's strenghtened this idea but it was always there (and I have never heard of a girl playing with meccano)

W.

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