We had an opportunity recently to give our local Children's Museum money – not very much, about the price of a night at the movie theater, with popcorn – in exchange for a special Donor Preview Night at their newest exhibit. This just so happened to be Lego Travel Adventures, which was an immediate Must-See for both Cups and Daddy, so we ponied up our movie admission and headed out for "Family friendly hors d'oeuvres" and a sneak peek at the exhibit.
I'd never been to a Donor Preview Event before, but we did go the night $childrens_hospital rented out the museum from 6-9 PM for all of their referring docs and office staff, and that was pretty bruisingly fun, so we were definitely looking forward to it. Cups was looking forward to it for an entire week, and the car ride was almost intolerable: at some point when she chirruped "I'm so excited!" I shot back with
"And you just can't hide it?" Never teach a five-year-old to sing 80's hits, even in jest. Try as I might, I couldn't get her to wrap her head around the rest of the lyrics. The rest of the ride was one-line 80's hit night.
Our Children's Museum is a really nice place and they know how to throw a party, including an open wine and beer bar, which is really vitally important when you are shepherding excitable kids through a Lego exhibit between 6:30 and 9 PM. For the eats there were ciabatta pizza rectangles and fried raviolis and vegetable skewers and ice cream bars and brightly colored Jello rectangles, and the tables all had little frosted glass candle holders full of Legos on them so we could build while we ate. It was all themed in primary colors and rectangles.
Just to emphasize how excited Cups was, she built a tower instead of eating her pizza and then scarfed it down in ten seconds flat when told there would be no more Legos until she finished her dinner. And then, three bites into an ice cream bar, she abandoned it to run upstairs to check out the exhibit. Let me repeat that: Cups handed me a quarter-eaten ice cream bar and said "I'm done. Now for the Legos."
I am an old-school Lego Maniac: the kind where there were rectangle pieces and flat pieces and square pieces and wheels. I am bewildered by all the specialized bits that have come out of the modernization of Legos, and at the same time very excited about angles and slopes and things. Cups, on the other hand, has always been able to build dinosaurs and Jeeps and languished over the untouchable Vader lurking over Daddy's study desk. It's just the way Legos are for her.
The exhibit was subdivided: there were Duplo cars to build and race (and a Lego racecar big enough to sit in!) as well as some of the larger building blocks, the kind big enough to build playhouses out of, out among some glass-enclosed model cases with clever themes like "San Francisco" and "Paris". There were also some interactive computer displays for creating virtual models.
Cap'n quickly got bored after a few runs of the Duplo car down the track, since he was explicitly banned from either eating it or from sliding himself down in lieu of a wheeled construct, so he and Daddy headed over to one of the other exhibits, which left Cups and I to enter the Building Area. I am certain that when this particular exhibit is open to the general public that the Building Area will be shoulder-deep in kids, and there will not be room enough to build a two-block tower, let alone the "dream vehicle" they encourage you to make. But at the Donor Preview there was room, and Cups shouldered her way up to the build tables.
They were big flat areas to build on with buckets full of disembodied Lego parts, mixed and matched from all the sets. Scattered over the tables were partially assembled Frankenfigures and half-constructed walls. Cups grabbed a partial body and started assembling. It just so happened that the majority of the minifigs on the table were from the Lego Friends set: you know, the
creepy friendly new “For Girls” Legos. They have a size advantage over the original minifigs, as well as being leggier and arm-ier, so maybe that’s why all the kids were building with them, but it was still sort of satisfying. Cups grabbed a head and a torso and legs and about six different hairs before she found one she liked (blonde, like her), and put a little pink crown on the top of it, and held it up to me. "This is Princess Leia, Mom."
Princess Leia had a minimalist spaceship, and a dog, and a console, and we headed over to make a greenscreen copy of it to email to Friends and Family. I wouldn't call the greenscreen camera a quality lens, but we did render the picture you see here, including Cups with the very strange face, and sent it to ourselves. And then Princess Leia flew around the volcano for a bit before stopping to let her dog out, and we headed off to more Fun and Adventure.
Really, there isn't much to a Lego Exhibit except the bits where they show you the awesome stuff people have built and the bits where you get to make your own awesome stuff, but for the Donor Preview the Children's Museum also roped in some other activities.
One was the Master Build, where a Lego Master Builder was working with all comers to generate a huge Space Shuttle model (hint: if you ever want to do something that's fabulously tedious, get a bunch of kids to do it a little bit at a time), and another was the Girl Scouts, and their First Lego League entry.
I was a Girl Scout once. I quit because my troop was interested in fashion shows and manicures and etiquette lessions, while I was interested in snakes and computers and science fiction books. I wish that there had been something like First Lego League in my troop, because I would have loved getting involved in robotics, and I think First Lego League goes about it the right way: they target kids of all stripes, rather than dressing their event up in pink and calling it "for Girls". And then they make it fun. The Girl Scouts couldn't stop fiddling with their machine, showing off tasks, correcting each other. They couldn't stop talking about what they were doing.
I stopped to chat. We talked about Lego Friends, and the marketing of Legos to girls, and the Girl Scouts volunteered that they didn't particularly want pink Legos, because the ones they had worked just fine. We talked about First Lego League, and snakes, and about being part of a team and making something; we talked a little bit about engineering and science in a roundabout way, but it was clear to me that the competition wasn't about being Girls in Science to these Girl Scouts. It was about making something really cool.
That's how I would like science (and, incidentally, Legos) to be marketed to Cups: I'd like it to be as easy and natural as showing girls having fun in the photo array on the top of the First Lego League webpage. I'd like it to be something that girls do because it looks like a lot of fun, and not because someone tied a pink ribbon on it or made it sparkle. I'd like to stop playing into the divisive ideal that there are "kids" and there are "girls", because that becomes down the line that there are "people" and there are "women", and leads to some people's accomplishments being prefaced with "female" as if somehow being a "female engineer" is a different thing than being an "engineer". And that leads to people sitting in think tanks asking how to market Legos to girls, when girls were already playing with them.
Cups knows how. So do the Girl Scouts I met the other night. And so does Princess Leia in her minimalist
spaceship air vehicle.