Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are Legos for girls?

BusinessWeek ran a cover story this past week on whether Lego is for girls. A note of explanation, before anyone leaps to certain conclusions. The classic Lego blocks are, most emphatically, for either gender. However, in recent years, Lego has figured out that there is far more money to be made selling kits based on different themes. So which themes? While Harry Potter has been pretty gender neutral, most of the other themes are pretty over-the-top boy: battles, Ninjas, etc. I wish the laws of economics didn't point toward kits (talk about stifling creativity, to dictate how a toy should be played with, and assigning a story line already...) but it does.

So why not some kits aimed at girls? Sounds simple enough as a way to build market share. But what should those kits look like?

To the credit of Lego, it sounds like they are not simply making the blocks pink. The soon-to-launch Lego Friends line is based on studies of how girls play -- packaging kits so you can start playing before you've totally assembled the kit, since girls seem to be more into enjoying the process than boys (who tend to race against the clock to complete a kit). It seems to be like a reasonable compromise to make Legos more appealing to girls so they can get the spatial reasoning benefits of playing with these little blocks... but I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think.

21 comments:

Mom2two said...

I played with LEGO bricks when I was a kid in the '70's. I particularly liked the trees and building houses. My two sons (5 and 10) love building the kits and playing with the end product. DS5 loves to take them apart to build new creations as did his older brother when he was younger. We are happy to keep LEGO in business no matter what products they come up with. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'm a girl and would have loved a ninja Lego set when I was younger! But it's good that they're basing the "girls" set on actual research. I'm sure there are plenty of boys that like the putting together better too :)

Anonymous said...

My daughter had several "girl theme" lego sets years ago. They were all playhouse type sets with princesses, fairies, etc where you built the 'house' for the characters to play in. Not at all like the sets my boys used.

I always preferred to buy the kids the freestyle sets. The boys would build cars and my daughter built houses with gardens. :)

Anonymous said...

My daughter is a definite girl and at the age of 5 realized that legos are marketed to boys. She was angry about this. Fortunately, we checked Legos.com and found sets with princesses and castles and horses and gardens. When dd opened up her present, she began setting it up immediately and was satisfied. That was 5 years ago. Now, she is into the higher end legos like the carousel and the architectual buildings. She also likes the Star Wars sets, but she still plays with the princess/castle sets.


But, I can't tell you how relieved we were when she found girl legos and stopped being angry about her brother having better toys.

She has mentioned that Legos isn't so good with their knowledge of girls and she'd like to grow up to work for them so they can learn to make toys girls really enjoy.

'Nother Barb said...

That article left out some information, such as WHY their previous efforts failed. I would have though that a Lego mosaic art line would have done well.

In Sweden, toys cannot be advertised showing just girls or just boys playing with them. I wonder how Lego in general fares with girls there?

My brother and I played with the original Legos: red and white only, with windows, little working doors, green roofs, trees, and ready-made cars. We wanted to be architects and made plenty of models. I just asked my son what kind of Legos he likes. He opened up "Vignettebricks" on Blogspot, as well as several other such blogs. THAT'S what my kids like. These are done by AFOLs, I suppose, but I'd love to see more kids doing THAT kind of thing. Lego is very proprietary with their name, but it would be nice if such sites were better known with kids.

Alecia said...

My 7 and 8 year old girls love Legos. However, we haven't bought them any sets. I prefer it this way and live to see how creative they are when building things and incorporating Legos with all their other toys and figurines (anything from superhero figurines to Barbies to Littlest Pet Shop).

Suzanne Hubele said...

I do have a gifted DD who loves ponies, princesses, and unicorns. I am always so frustrated when I see so many toys marketed towards girls that are visually appealing, but lack substance. I have actually held off on buying Legos for my daughter because she said they looked boring because both the colors (boy colors, she said) and sample photos of what she could build (too easy) didn't appeal to her enough for her to use them. I love to hear that Lego is actually studying how girls play and what appeals to them!! My DD is both smart and beautiful inside and out. Why can't my DD daughter have toys that reflect that?

Heather said...

I think it is a good thing. My daughter wants to like Legos--but just hasn't connected with them the way my son has. He loves the kits, and then takes them apart and has a stock of bricks to build with.

I think that kits and pre-set story lines can be helpful learning tools, as long as kids are encouraged to go beyond them. A kit can teach someone about building techniques they might not know about yet.

I like the current Lego commercial which shows a dad and his son (not yet reaching out to the girl market) mixing story lines and characters by having an RV pick up Star Wars and other characters.

Anonymous said...

My impression of Legos is that they must work hard to develop such unapealing colors so boys won't be put off. Id love a set with less muddy tones and a wider range of shades.

My son loved the Bionicle sets. I grew up jealous of my brother's ttoys...train sets and Hot Wheels tracks.

Good luck to Legos marketing to girls. Its about time.

Anonymous said...

I played with the "space" legos as a child (i am female) and loved them. I was disappointed when the started leaning toward licensed kits like star wars. But there were cool castle kits for a while. Both castles and spAce are social studies based and gender neutral as far as I am concerned. They have the city series as well...I was a bit of a tom boy I suppose. My daughter loves princesses, etc. but happily plays with the multicolor box of lego bricks.

'Nother Barb said...

We just got our Lego catalog and checked out Friends online. It looks like a combination of dollhouses, Littlest Pet Shop, and Polly Pockets. Just enough pink to attract the girls, more as accents. An awful lot of tiny accessories. A couple of sets should have walls -- wait, we can use our other Legos to build them. I can imagine raiding the boys' City, Kingdoms, and Town sets to build a community; building a school with minifigs for pupils (we'll need to build more houses or a dormitory), a stable for all our old western and castle horses; designing a gymnastics/sports hall incorporating the boys' action-oriented sets. I hope they add more housing styles, and maybe differently-abled figures. And make it easy to get things like flowers and trees separately. And a not-too-defined town plan board without studs. We may raise some civic planners. I think I would have like this theme as a girl. But in the end, how different is Friends from Belville?

lgm said...

ime many women won't buy legos for their dds, whether it be Belville or the current line marketed to gals or any of the other sets. Haven't met any dads who have done lego trains with the gals, but plenty who do with the lads..maybe small sample size. Most women literally have no idea of the possibilities & don't want to waste their money -- that means sometimes their gals have to wait until high school summer enrichment robotic camp to get their hands on legos.

J said...

My gifted girly-girl would love these Legos... IF these sets aimed at girls were as challenging to build as the ones aimed at boys. These sets have limited numbers of pieces and many of those are not even bricks. To top it off, the minifigs are of a different size, so the non-Friends sets aren't even compatible. At best, Lego missed the mark and will fail economically. At worst, they've set budding female engineers back decades by sending the message that girls cannot handle the challenges that boys can. Shame on them.

DonnaMusic said...

My 7 yr old DD loves castle, Ninjago, Pharoah's quest, and many others-she uses them to create historical settings. So Pharoah's quest is Egypt, Castle is medieval, Ninjago is Japan (and sometimes Dynastic China). We have bought a lot of the girl mini-figs that are in the special series-for example, there has been an Egyptian girl, a Japanese girl, and so on-and they're usually easy to find in the packs because the skirts are so big. She's not all that interested in "Friends" because the girls are "just normal stuff" and there's not much to actually build-and, as she says, if she wants to play with dolls with her legos, she'll simply build houses for her polly pockets.

I do wish they'd make some more girly colors available in bulk, though-you can get only 1x1, 1x2, and 2x2 pink bricks through pick a brick, and purple is even rarer except for the Harry Potter knight bus set. We're very long on grey, brown, tan, and black.

Maureen said...

As a teacher who assists students in Lego design competitions at the elementary level, I have to say that I am pleased to see some kits that will be made with the female perspective in mind. But please, don't let them all be princess castles and cottages with white picket fences! With the current push for girls to prepare for a career in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), we need to have some toys that stimulate our girls without overfeminizing everything. I am curious to see what the research shows and what the end product will be.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Apparently my son plays with legos "like a girl," pausing during creation to play with the individual parts. (And, in fact, tears open all the bags at the beginning for that purpose.) He loves them just the same in all their male-dominated glory. (Cat Woman was in the last Batman set... does that count? She had a whip.)

These broad gender differences irritate me. Individual variation is almost always greater than variation between groups.

Laura Vanderkam said...

@Nicole and Maggie - very true that differences within genders are very wide, and often wider than those between. I am still trying to figure out what I think about Lego Friends. There just isn't much profit to be made from a big bucket of blocks, and since the company did start packaging blocks as kits and marketing them especially toward boys, it's nice to have some acknowledgement of girls. At least that means that blocks themselves need not be boy toys -- because there are a lot of benefits to blocks! But I wish toys weren't so gendered (and dumbed down) to begin with...

childEngineer said...

I don't get it. My son is nearly 5 and my daughter is 2 1/2 and they both play with Duplos. I do not see a significant difference in the way that they play and the colors of the Duplos seems irrelevant. My son likes pink as much as my daughter and the thought of buying "girlie" Lego sets for her seems ridiculous. Of course, once they start school and learn from their peers that boys and girls are supposed to like different colors and toys, things might be different.

Erin said...

I just discovered this blog and had to comment on this post because all three of my kiddos (ds 9, dd 7, dd 5)LOVE Legos! One of the things ds enjoys is a good set of directions...it's the engineer part of him loving the organization and building process. Just to add a different perspective on the value of packaged kits! I also give him bags of random pieces (mostly from garage sales)so he gets the opportunity to figure out what to build and how to build it. He often goes back and researches what kits the pieces might have come from at some point.

Both of my girls are really enjoying the "friends" sets. They mix and match their sets much more and they like the bright color schemes. They are into dance and music, so it's nice to have sets that reflect their interests. I believe there is a vet kit and a scientist kit now, too. I don't see anything wrong with my girls having Legos that are in line with what they are already into in real life.

One more thought...the kits such as the new "Lord of the Rings" line are encouraging my son to read things he wouldn't have otherwise been interested in because he finds it more fun to use the sets once he knows the story lines.

On a side note, I'm so happy to have found a place that discusses issues I'm facing! Thanks!

Laura Vanderkam said...

@Erin- welcome! I hope you'll check out the archives and stick around. Thanks for reading - Laura

Erin said...

Thanks, Laura! Yes, I plan on sticking around and am excited to read about others' experiences with raising and teaching kids who are academically gifted!