Friday, December 30, 2011

LEGO=leg godt "play well"

On January 1 of 2012, LEGO is releasing a new line targeted specifically towards girls and it has started a social media frenzy.  Princess Free Zone and PBG (Powered by Girl), two amazing Facebook pages have urged their followers to take a stand against the gender biased marketing of LEGO by re-posting a vintage LEGO advert on the LEGO fan page and urging them to "Bring back beautiful."

I did, and think it would be a great idea if all of you did too.  But not because LEGO is wrong.

Eight years ago LEGO was close to bankruptcy (Harvard Business Review).  According to Bloomberg Businessweek the company turned itself around by creating a product line and marketing strategy that catered specifically to boys.  Alien Conquest, Ninjago, Hero Factory, and Star Wars are the products lines that jump out when you visit the official LEGO website.  The company became one that targeted 50% of kids and the strategy was a winner.  Their revenue increased 105% in six years.  I am certainly not an economist, but that seems pretty impressive.  LEGO might be a great toy, great for every child.  But it is also a billion dollar company that is out there to make money.

LEGO Group Chief Executive Officer Jørgen Vig Knudstorp says, “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.”  To do so, they have created "LEGO Friends" a line targeted towards girls ages 5 and up.

My four year old had a playdate a few months back with one of her best friends.  A best friend who happens to be a boy.  They have known each other since before they were born.  They were working with LEGOs, a DUPLO set that included a fire truck and rescue vehicle.  My lovely girl created a barn for a family of farm animals, her self talk sounding a bit like, "Here is a bed for the mommy cow and her baby calf, and here comes big sister horse and friend sheep for a visit."  When the lovely farm animal barn home caught fire (remember this is a Fire House set that is being played with ) the rescuers came to help, put out the fire then had hot cocoa with the cows.  Her fabulous friend, with wonderful parents that get him a wide variety of cross gendered toys, was playing right next to her.  His LEGO creations kept smashing together and when the rescuer came to help the ambulance would also explode in a ball of flame.  Luckily the rescuers were able to climb bookshelves and dive bomb the disaster site with parachute fire hoses.  All was well.  I don't believe any cocoa was served.

Two very different scenarios in my living room of parallel play.

Both these kids have pretty progressive parents.  We shun cheap toys, we shop at independent toy shops, buy gender neutral Melissa and Doug toys.  My husband wrestles with my kiddos, they've been skiing since they could walk.  Bruises are a sign of a good time and mathematical skills are valued.  Her friend has a baby doll that he loves and a toy kitchen that he cooks in daily.  We are not parents that actively encourage gender stereotypical play.  Yet it happens.

And it is not a bad thing.

LEGOs create spatial awareness, provide patterning practice and fine motor skill development opportunities. Children work on sorting skills when they look for just the right piece and play with LEGOs allows for three dimensional creativity.   Play with LEGOs can improve mathematical skills as well as engineering and architectural abilities. (  I know this and my house will always be filled with LEGOs.  The plain brick ones with enough doors, windows, characters and vehicles to create the framework of a story.  But I am not every parent.  Each week nearly one-third of the American population visits a Walmart.  One-third.  EVERY WEEK! (wikipedia)  I am willing to bet that some of those visitors shop for toys.  I don't know about your Walmart, but mine has two kinds of aisles.  The boy aisle and the girl aisle.  Is this right?  No way!  Is it reality?  Yup!  So thank you LEGO for putting something in the "girl" aisle of the department stores of America that promotes what the early brain needs to succeed in higher level math. Girls are more than Tutus and Tiaras.  Unfortunately many American consumers have forgotten this.

The shame lies not in the corporations.  Making money is their job.  The shame is on the parents of America for forgetting that open ended play is enough.  Blocks, multi-colored LEGOS, animals, people, tracks, trains, living spaces, dolls, real life play.  That is what kids need.  A princess or two for a girl who loves to play family...not a terrible thing.  Trucks for a boy who likes to smash things together...great. 

It's all about balance.  Parents, it's your job to create it, not the company's job to provide it.

Bring back beautiful.  For your kids.

Magic Cabin

Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas Mamas!

Merry Christmas to all the beautiful Mama's out there.  Wishing you happiness, health and sanity this holiday season!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

App of the Month: BOB Books!

I''m pretty sure that as parents of my students shop for Christmas I am not their favorite person.

We have an iPAD in my classroom now.  And they are all asking Santa for one.  Wait...all but one.  One is asking for a beard.  But back to the point.  My kiddos are asking for iPADs.  And so are a huge number of American kids.  According to a Nielsen poll, the iPAD is on 44% of kid's (ages 6-12) Christmas lists.  iPOD touch is on 30%, and the iPhone (keep dreaming, kid) is on 27%.  This seems so high, but I'd be willing to bet that if Nielson polled Moms and Dads about their Christmas lists the results would be the same or higher. 

Since it's a pretty good bet that at least 44% of Moms and Dads would rather play with an iPAD than a Let's Rock Elmo, there's a lot of kids who will have a new techie toy.  Santa will probably leave it for Mom or Dad, but everyone will get a turn.

My wish for Christmas is that parents recognize the value in using their child's inevitable screen time wisely.  I know the argument can be made that Angry Birds is an excellent physics lesson.  All sorts of velocity and acceleration calculations can be made about the silly things.  But for your little ones?  A waste of screen time.  There are so many wonderful educational apps out there!

One that I love for my four year old and for my beginning readers in my kindergarten and first grade class is BOB Books Reading Magic and BOB Books Reading Magic 2.   Based on a popular series of easy reader books, this engaging app helps children develop phonemic awareness practice essential phonological skills.  In order to successfully learn to read in the early grades children must be able to hear and manipulate sounds in words.  The BOB Books app allows your child to practice at home a piece of what they will be learning in school as a beginning reader.

Download BOB Books by clicking the link below and watch your child learn!