In Defense of LEGO

Hilary Stout’s article in The New York Times,  With New Toys, More Assembly Required , correctly points out what we’ve been observing and writing about for years.  You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, arm yourself with a screwdriver, sometimes a power drill — all to put a toy together.  If you’re not particularly handy, we  recommend that you enlist the assistance of the  store or a relative that doesn’t break out in a cold sweat when confronted with complicated assembly instructions.  And whatever you do, don’t start at midnight on Christmas Eve–it’s almost a surefire recipe for tears and spousal strife.

That said…the article then goes on to talk about LEGO sets with too many pieces.  Here, we have to disagree.  The beauty of LEGO sets is that there are sets for all builders…beginners to the most advanced.  Most hard core LEGO fans will tell you that the company has made it too easy for builders with the new bagging technique.  Rather than open the box and find several hundred pieces — the company now pre-sorts the builds.  For LEGO builders of the past– this new approach has been labeled strictly for whimps!  You can hear many a parent say “in my day, we had to go through each and every piece” after we walked five long miles from school.

One of the big messages we try to get out each year is to start at the beginning.  If you are doing all of the building and your child is just watching you–you’ve brought home the wrong set.  The idea of these sets and why they appeal to kids — is that they build a child’s sense of what they can accomplish.  Learning how to read and follow step-by-step instructions is huge.  Having the patience to stick with a project – that not everything is instantaneous – is an important life lesson.

It is no surprise to us that LEGO has continued to do well in these tough times and has maintained a strong presence in an otherwise  shrinking and battered  toy industry.  They have maintained their core mission by giving kids fun kits to build, they’ve improved their directions and they have stayed current by bring in themes and licenses that are attractive to their target audience. The most sought after LEGO kits from our testers are in fact the smaller sets where kids can build a car or Star Wars vehicle and then play with it.  It is that sense of accomplishment that makes them ask for more. The focus is on building self-esteem and confidence and having fun–not how many pieces you can handle.

We also know that building develops the following skills: visual discrimination,  fine-motor, spatial relations, math, reading, ability to follow directions in sequence and problem solving skills.   We want both our sons and daughters to be competitive in math and engineering – it begins with these hands-on experiences. So start small.  It’s like my grandmother always used to say, don’t worry about the size, buy what fits.

For  reviews of our top-rated construction toys–visit

Star Wars: Republic Attack Shuttle

We are now in full test mode here–and the number one request for boys in that 6-9 range are Star Wars sets.  So here’s some initial feedback. The large and showy LEGO Star Wars Republic Attack Shuttle with 636 pieces got mixed reviews.  One of our eight year old testers and his Dad had trouble with getting some pieces to connect. I loved that this tester could show me exactly which step (#25 on page 22 of the 1st model book) posed a problem.  We then had a teen builder take a look.  He did not have a problem but noted that this was a more advanced build.

Let us know if you’ve tried this one. It is a really neat build once you’re done! I would suggest that if you’re starting with LEGO (in any theme…start with the smaller sets and build up to the larger models).  There will be a lot less frustration in your house.

Great Tip for LEGO Builders

I’ve been testing LEGOs since we started reviewing toys.  And while I wasn’t big on too many toys as a kid, I did love my LEGOs.

One of our testers just told me that her son sorts out all the pieces by color first before he starts to build.  Maybe many of you already do this–but after decades of playing with LEGOs…it was a lightbulb moment for me.  So I thought I would pass it on.

It comes under the same heading of things you might not think of….I had a similar lightbulb moment when I realized that if you actually look at a ball when you’re trying to hit it, the chances of actually making contact rise dramatically.  Now if you’re a jock by nature, you are probably laughing…but for me this was HUGE.  I wish I had come to this realization when I was a kid.  So I mention it to all the coaches/gym teachers I come in contact with because I don’t think most people would even think it’s an option not to look.  Perhaps because I was always sure that I was going to get hit by the ball, I naturally closed my eyes…or later in life looked at my opponents while trying to hit the tennis ball.  So if this helps anyone…my good deed is done.

Update: Complying Companies

Good news! The following companies have sent in verification forms for several of their products.

Edushape, Mudpuppy, Lego Systems, Publications International, Little Tikes, Step 2, Kidsgive, Lisa LeLeu

We hope now that the new toy season in underway that more companies will submit forms!  We are not independently verifiying with a lab, but we are encouraged that these companies have listed their lab and signed off on the form that their products are lead and phthalates free.