Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Encourage STEM Education for Girls with LEGO

legos and stem learning for girls

We’re thrilled to see the wonderful array of toys popping up that facilitate Science, Technology, Education and Math – STEM – education. Sometimes also called STEAM education (the extra A is for “Art”), STEM is a critical cornerstone in the success of young learners everywhere. Not only can it encourage extremely complex, high-level thinking; it can also level the playing field for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Underrepresented students who participate in STEM learning programs can go on to have rewarding careers fueled by an in-demand skill set.

Unfortunately, there are still barriers involved when it comes to engaging girls in STEM learning. From a very young age, girls are inundated with messages about which toys they should be playing with and which activities should interest them. By the time first grade rolls around, most students have already been shaped by the message that boys are more natural fits for math and science. From there, the gap grows wider; as more girls become ambivalent about STEM activities, the disproportionate number of boys excelling in the subject reinforces the stereotype.

How do these assumptions start so early, before school even starts? A large part of it has to do with the toys children play with. Most of the math, science and engineering toys are marketed to boys, while dolls and playhouses are marketed to girls. That means even if a young girl might enjoy playing with construction or engineering toys, she will shy away from them because they feature male figurines. Many of these toys also show boys on the box or in commercials playing with the toy, leading girls to assume the toys aren’t for them.

Fortunately, you can help girls discover their love of STEM learning with LEGO toys. While every single LEGO set is appropriate for both boys or girls, we have a few in particular that are more likely to provide a friendly introduction to STEM for girls who have mainly been exposed dolls and pink playthings through commercials and the toy store shelves. Below are just a few of our LEGO sets that do not contain male action figures or anything else that might make a girl think she shouldn’t be interested in the toy.

  • LEGO DUPLO sets (early learners): Comprised of larger, simple blocks for the tiniest of hands, most LEGO DUPLO sets are equally appealing to both boys and girls. We especially love the Neverland Pirates set, featuring both a boy and a girl pirate, and the Doc McStuffins character, featuring Rosie the Ambulance and a backyard animal clinic.

  • LEGO Elves sets: The brightly imaginative Elves line is heavily story-driven, with a young girl, Emily Jones, at the center of the narrative. Most of the elves in the storyline are female, and the lavish, fantastical settings appeal to young girls without being overly “girly.” If your daughter loves reading and telling stories, this is an especially great line for her. Check out the Mysterious Castle set for three female figurines, a jewel-toned castle, a lava kitchen, a magic owl, and more!

  • LEGO Creator sets: LEGO Creator sets are less character-driven than other LEGO lines, which means even some of the most stereotypically “boyish” offerings do not alienate females by featuring male figurines. Instead, girls can simply focus on their creation, be it a sea plane, an off-road car, or a beach hut. And with colors like green, orange, white, and yellow, most of the Creator sets also manage to avoid colors that are heavily associated with one particular gender.

  • LEGO Friends sets: If your little girl just loves dolls and all things traditionally “girly,” that’s okay too! The LEGO Friends set will allow her to be true to her tastes while still opening up mind to the world of construction and engineering through active play. Centered on five female characters, LEGO Friends embody a range of personalities and feature strong storylines. We especially love the LEGO Friends Dolphin Cruiser.

  • LEGO Mixels: These creative, quirky characters can be male or female. Any Mixel set can be combined with another for an endless array of designing and creative play.

  • LEGO Ideas sets: These unique LEGO sets contain some of the brand’s most beautiful offerings, and for good reason: the design ideas are all submitted and voted on by the LEGO community! Because these sets are community-driven, they often feature themes and creations that are a little more out-of-box and less gender-specific than other offerings. Check out the stunning Birds set for a construction toy that will double as a work of art in any child’s bedroom.

  • LEGO Architecture sets: If your daughter is creatively inclined, these architecture sets are the perfect way for her explore beautiful architectural designs while learning some fun historical trivia. They will help her move beyond drawing (another great skill!) as she watches her creations come alive in 3D form, learning elements of construction and engineering in the process. She can also go off the beaten path and alter the design if she chooses.

What are your girls’ favorite LEGO sets to play with? Share in the comments below!


  1. Thanks for the article. On a related note, I'm hoping for conductive legos in the future so students can help create assistive technology for students with disabilities. I sent an e-mail to Lego (below), but I'm not sure this was the best approach. Please let me know if there is a good contact or better approach. I will post on my blog in case anyone wants to support the effort:
    e-mail sent to Lego:
    "As an educator and assistive technology practitioner I am working / inventing ways to improve access for kids with disabilities. One technique my colleagues and I use involves using a small micro controller (MakeyMakey) in conjunction with conductive materials (e.g. bananas, clay, etc) to make customized switches. These switches can automate a voice, turn on a light, or play a song.

    I was excited to hear about Legos commitment to reducing the use of plastics and moving toward a more bio-degradable alternative. Partly for the environmental reasons and partly for the hope that Legos could some day be conductive, allowing kids and AT practitioners alike to make tools for kids with disabilities.

    I'm writing in hopes that you might be able to consider using conductive materials in developing the next generation of Lego. It would certainly open a lot of doors for our kids.

    Thank you kindly for your time and consideration,"

    Pete Carpenter (occupational therapist, father, and Lego fan)

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