I remember the first few LEGO sets I received as a child. They were hand me downs from cousins, or pieced together bags of blocks from garage sales. I was around kindergarten age then, and had no idea there were actual themed sets. I would spend hours making whatever my mind could conjure up, from houses to tree forts and even castles. I learned an important lesson as a child in those days, and that was that I could make anything with LEGO that my imagination dreamt up (as long as I had enough pieces of course.)
Nowadays, I have a child of my own, and even though she’s only passed her first birthday, we have some toddler DUPLO sets already waiting in her toybox. I hope that she’ll get as much as out of LEGO as I did as a child, but I won’t know for a few years. LEGO sets these days are a lot different than the ones I played with, but hours of fun still await your little ones as they do, and here are some LEGO products that will help stir up their little imaginations.
LEGO Friends continues to release beautifully detailed sets, despite controversy over the colour schemes and different style of minifig (mini-doll) that was specially designed to appeal to young female builders. The Vet Clinic pictured to the left replaces the retired Heartlake Vet and features a Mia mini-doll, cat and dog and a variety of vet equipment. There are some really unique pieces in this set, as well as some clever sliding and rotating parts with existing piece molds. This is a 192 piece set designed for 5-12 year olds. It has a lot of smaller pieces, but is a straightforward set to build for a focused child. Once you’ve finished with the Vet Clinic, there are lots of different add-ons to keep the fun going in Heartlake City, including recreational sets and even pets. Since LEGO pet minifigs are generally tougher to find, I’ve made it a habit of buying and saving a lot of the little sets (like this Little Foal set) so that we have a healthy rotation of LEGO animals to add to playtime in the future.
LEGO Elves is a new line in 2015, utilizing the same mold for the mini-dolls and also follows in the trend set by the Friends line and offers new colours and many small, detailed pieces in the sets. Azari and the Magical Bakery is a classic example. It features Azari and Johnny Baker mini-dolls, as well as Flamy the fox. The set has a number of magenta and yellow-gold coloured pieces, as well as some brick-facade 2x1s which are very cool as well. The set is heavy on the decorative elements, food and mini-doll accessories, a hallmark of the sets designed for young girls. The windows and doors in the bakery are particularly unique, with a medieval-fantasy style wooden ‘inn’ feel. Similar to the moving pieces in the Friends set, the bakery oven is a well designed and cleverly constructed piece which is a toy in itself. The set comes with a magical key, an important part of the accompanying TV series.
The fun doesn’t stop with just the LEGO sets themselves, however. You can download the LEGO Elves “Unite the Magic” app for your Android or iOS Devices (iOS 7+ required) and your kids can continue on there. For your peace of mind, LEGO has made this a free and safe app. That means no login information, third party ads or in-game purchase content. Your children are free to roam, explore and collect items without worry of racking up your phone bill.
Mini-dolls in both the Friends and Elves line feature slightly rubbery hair pieces and a slender 2-piece body. Although the body parts have generic connectors, they generally look a bit silly (unlike minifigs) when swapped around. The Elves, for example, have their ears connected to their hair, and it looks a bit odd if you start switching things like that around since they’re proportioned to the doll’s head.
Despite criticism for releasing sets targeted towards girls, LEGO insists that their purpose is to introduce as many different types of children to the benefits of learning through building. The mini-dolls are an important part of the immersive-storytelling that LEGO is aiming to inspire with these characters. LEGO is a great tool in fostering a child’s imagination. First, it allows the recreation and manipulation of situations and familiar objects from memory, an important role-play ability. Then, LEGO, unlike most static toys, allows a child to take the next step into fantasy and make-believe, creating completely new and unique scenarios and objects that have never existed except in the imagination. Anything can be anything, such as the image below. It may look like 3 simple blocks to us, but it could be a powerful tank in the eyes of a child.
LEGO Friends allows a deep level of customization and real-world role-play with the decorative pieces included in the sets and, for example, the set of veterinary instruments (syringes and ice packs, etc). However, the working nature of the set allows for replayability and storytelling, since the parts really move and the open facade of the buildings allows children to play through specific events from their imagination. LEGO Elves offers many of the same features, although appeals more to the fantasy fan than the real-world Friends sets. Elves sets also feature many moving parts and open floor plans, with above-average (for LEGO) inclusion of characters and animals within the sets, all with their own accessory items.
While I’ve been showing off LEGO Friends and Elves, there are literally dozens of other sets to help encourage your little ones’ creative energy. Sometimes, just classic LEGO builds can do the trick. The LEGO Creator Line focuses on more traditional, themeless sets, and will often come with instructions for more than one thing you can make with all of the same pieces.
You may want to make things even simpler, and go straight to LEGO Classic, which is basically just bricks in a box and simple baseplates. This was how I got my start as a child, and I may start my daughter off this way too when she’s old enough before introducing her to the treasure trove of themed sets my wife and I have collected over the years. While I value the look and idea of and licensed and themed sets, buildings and vehicles, I think we often get bogged down by trying to make the “coolest” or “biggest” sets out of the box. This is fantastic once your child has become a Lego Pro looking for the next challenge, but there’s something just so satisfying about taking a pile of nothing with no instruction or no direction and turning it into something.
If themed LEGO grabs your fancy though, there are a lot of original and licensed lines you can choose from, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Pirates, and the classic City. There are even sets based on Minecraft! We own a few sets out of almost every one of these lines and I have to admit that despite my lifelong love of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and how much I like the look of DC Superheroes, my heart belongs to the original LEGO City as simple as it all is.
The best thing to remember in choosing which LEGO to bring home is that everything is compatible with each other, so the crossover possibilities are endless. Would you like to take the Elves into LEGO City? Maybe the Heartland City Friends want to visit Mordor? Why is Luke Skywalker suddenly standing and captaining a pirate ship? By the end of this year, you’ll even be able to take all of your minifigs for a ride through Jurassic Park! There’s no shortage of imaginative options you can explore while browsing Best Buy’s online LEGO store, and no limit to the hours of fun children and adults can have building and creating a world around them!