“Not only does Lego fail to show how creative I am, but it also hinders my creativity. If the Lego is based on a theme, then you can only follow their instructions to build a ship or a building as your final products,” he says.
But for Jared Chan, real Lego lovers can build with creativity regardless of the sets, even if they are themed, all it takes is practice and experimentation. Chan uses the example of building Lego trains. Since the company has produced different types of parts over the years, Chan tested his skills by building three versions for the same train using different types of parts. “This is a task to challenge myself, to keep thinking whether new parts can fit in my train and to make it look better,” Chan says, “ This is exactly what creativity means.”
According to Chan’s reasoning, even with very specific pieces designed for specific sets, children can still bring their talent in creativity into full play as long as they are encouraged to do so and do not feel compelled to follow the in-box instructions. For this to happen, parental attitude is very important.
Ambrose Leung Shing-yin’s five-year-old son Andre attends classes at BrickArt Design Studio which sells Lego creations and customised products. But he allows Andre to play with Lego without instruction and guidance.
Leung says he wants his son to explore and find his personality through playing with Lego. Instead of obeying orders and rules, his son can live up to his potential and pursue his dreams in the future.
“We should not guide the children. Like, if my son tells me he wants to build a Lego building that is taller than the ICC (International Commerce Centre), I tell him to think about how to achieve that rather than saying it is impossible,” Leung adds.
To inspire his interest in Lego, he does not limit his son to buy gender-specific lines, for instance, City which is targeted specially at boys. Sets in the line include construction sites, police units and race-cars. Leung chooses the Lego Architecture series instead which better suit his son’s interests.
Criticism of the company for gender stereotyping children’s toys is comparitivley recent. The Danish firm was heavily criticised for Lego Friends, a range aimed at girls launched in 2010. The pink and purple themed sets– which feature a group of five friends who seem to lead a life of leisure – were criticised for going against the gender equality the company had previously championed.
When an open letter to parents from the company in 1974 was posted on the internet last year, it quickly went viral.
In the letter, Lego states that: “The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and Girls. It’s imagination that counts…The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.”
Writer So Mei-chi agrees with these sentiments. So says she seldom buys Lego for her son and daughter but they are given sets as gifts or hand-me-downs. When they play with them, So says she does not set any rules or convey gender-specific expectations to them. “Boys can use the bricks to make dolls while girls can build aircraft,” she says. “ I do not think it is necessary to set limits for them.”
However, some parents do have reservations when buying Lego for their children that is targeted at the other sex. Amie Yau Kwong-fan has a six year-old daughter and also a two-year-old son who play with Lego. Although Kwong does not think it is a toy that belongs to either boys or girls, she finds it hard to overcome traditional views. She says that when buying the construction toys for her son, she usually prefers sets like cars which are considered to be boys’ toys.
Hardcore Lego aficionados tend to think the debate over gender stereotyping is overblown. William Wong Hung-hei, a core-member of LegendBricks, believes that neither the gender stereotype issue nor the movie tie-in and themed sets is a big deal. He says players can modify the bricks in the set-themed lines to produce something creative, for instance by building Iron Man’s house on top of a cliff made of Lego bricks.