We might have moved out of Bay area (which has our biggest LEGO group support), but haven’t let go of LEGOs :). This weekend we exhibited and interacted with kids and adults at PiiPoo LEGO event in Helsinki. This being our first time here, had no idea what to expect and was very pleased at how big the event is and how well it’s organized. This year we decided to focus only on LEGO Technic moving models and some static models like Spaceships and our son’s LEGO portrait. It was an interesting experience a little different from our experience in Bay area.
We build LEGOs as a family. When mood strikes us, we design and build like the downhill skier this winter. Or my kid builds a LEGO man resembling his dad walking a dog for his birthday. Because LEGOs are a great creative medium. Apart from normal builds, he has been into robotics ever since he was about 7. This summer he got back into building with vigor and built roller coaster, Taj Mahal, Saturn V, and more (some from kits). For the event itself, he decided to build a R/C tank and display with his friend.
There has been two major influences (apart from his parents ) in my son’s life to continue LEGO building. One of them is a wonderful professor from Tufts University, Dr. Ethan Danahy who posts a creative challenge every month of school year for both LEGO WeDo (Junior robotics) and LEGO Mindstorms. My kid has been doing these ever since he started WeDo 6.5 years ago and progressed to Mindstorms 5 years ago. They are called Dr.E’s challenges (you can google them). Very cool way of getting them to do problem solving using LEGOs. He and his team has been very encouraging and supportive to our son and I truly do believe that it helped him with his problem solving skills.
For eg: For this LEGO event, I learnt how Spirograph machines work and build one. But it wouldn’t work.. I spent 2-3 hrs debugging it and gave up in frustration. Decided not to take it to the event. In comes my son, takes one look at it and changes one thing and Presto… it works and it worked beautifully through the weekend. We must have made 250 or more of the designs to give away to kids (and adults)!. One parent came back yesterday with his kid and told us that they went home on Saturday all inspired, built a Spirograph together:).
The other major influence is the BayLUG (Bay area LEGO Users Group). It has some of the most wonderful, generous people who genuinely love to help kids (and adults) get inspired and learn. We participated in local meetings, and in BBTB (Bricks By The Bay LEGO convention) and Maker Faire representing BayLUG. I was co-coordinator for the Robotics section at BBTB along with Ms.Eva Carrender for two years (She is the main co-ordinator for Robotics, teaches Robotics in Bay area schools and outside, apart from designing and building bots and hosting events).
BayLUG is very active in recruiting/encouraging more and more young minds into LEGOs along with adults. BBTB used to be a wealth of information for us with 2 days dedicated for workshops and classes!. And the few members we got very familiar with always helped/encouraged our son to build creatively (he won twice for best LEGO Robotic contraption). Even now, when I need Technical help or a question, I turn to BayLUG members. For this weekend event, we had trouble with the roller coaster.. Motorized version wasn’t working smoothly. So, messaged Dan Kees from BayLUG who is the one who built a cool roller coaster in Halloween theme a few years ago!. Chatted with him and got suggestions to try. I am thankful for internet and FB so I can continue to be a member of BayLUG.
Not that Finland doesn’t have a LEGO Users Group. There is an official LEGO Users Group in Finland. I looked it up 6 months ago (I mean how can I not!). Finland LUG is called “Palikkatakomo”. They have a website and a page in English as well. A very brief page for sure and it ended with this : “Word of warning, though: Everything in Palikkatakomo is organized in Finnish so it is best that you know Finnish before joining our ranks.” Before I even join the group, they prefer if we know the language! Somehow it irked me so I never contacted them or joined the group. I can understand mentioning most of our users speak only Finnish but will make an effort for the kids or something more friendlier tone. But I kept thinking it might be cultural and maybe the tone I am reading is not what they mean (it’s quite possible right).
Yesterday at the event, I was talking to another international couple who was talking about the Spirograph and asked if there is a club to join. I told them about Finland LUG (honestly I didn’t know they were not Finnish just delighted they were speaking in English) and their response was that they looked at it and their website seems to indicate they better know Finnish before joining. Hmm… I thought. So, I am not the only one who felt that. Palikkatakomo had a huge exhibit at the event of course. So, later on, I went to the exhibit hoping to talk to someone and see if we can work out some way for others to join as well. There were two people at the exhibit and after a brief wait for an opening, I started a conversation. Asked in English if that is the official Finland LEGO Users Group and the answer was yes. I mentioned that I am a member of one of the LUGs in California and we moved 9 months ago. I told the person what the website says and that I am not the only one who felt that. The answer was that some of the founders of the group are old Finnish people and they don’t speak English and so it stays in Finnish. Apparently the other person at the exhibit is the Vice President of the Group but I never got a chance to talk to him because I didn’t wait too long there after that. I wish they would at least reconsider it to make non-Finnish people (kids especially) welcome to the group.
Another thing made me sigh deeply is when I went to talk to the FLL (First LEGO League) group there. Had quite a good conversation with them. They are based mainly in Helsinki of course and so asked if they have a team in Tampere (closest city to us) and he mentioned they have FLL teams in much smaller towns like Pori and Jyaskyla but not Tampere:( . He hopes next year there might be one. Not that I am looking for my son to join FLL or anything but wonder why such things don’t come to Tampere quicker.
Of course there are other people and organizations that are very supportive as well. For eg: the company PiiPoo, biggest LEGO store in Finland. While looking into Finland LUG, I was also googling for any events like BBTB here and came across this event from last year. So, I contacted them asking if we can participate this year. The owner, Timo, not only responded, he also invited us to another event in our town to participate. They organize these LEGO events in different cities/towns (along with selling merchandise). The Helsinki event is of course their biggest. One main difference I noticed between this and BBTB is the amount of LEGOS PiiPoo brings for kids to build and space they allocate to put all the builds. They even had nice camera setups for people to take pictures of their creations. There was also another company called Arkki (they teach architecture and building for kids) who came with all White blocks and had a separate display area for that too… Believe me, even adults who haven’t built in very long time got tempted and built there:)
Our son built most of the models we exhibited there but we built an amusement park around the roller coaster and ride as a family. Little details made it interesting and kids stopped to find those…like Gorilla Grodd climbing the roller coaster, a baby fell down to floor and 4 women looking at the baby, Wonder woman sitting on a park bench with a guy who is holding a baby, people flocking around food trucks, a woman with a chicken hat… and a whole petting zoo of course…it was lot of fun indeed.