Through the years, as my boys have grown up building with Lego bricks, we figured we’d get to a point where we’d exhausted the experience. We had started with Duplos and moved up the ranks, till we got to Lego Mindstorm robot kits. Now that my youngest son is ten, I had started to wonder if he’d soon be letting go of his bricks. His older brothers, also Lego enthusiasts, had shown him all the big kid stuff and he thought he’d seen it all.
Then along came a new program, that officially launched on June 1st, called the Lego Master Builder Academy. It’s an amazing idea. Although they are a rare breed, there is such a thing as a Lego Master Builder. These lucky grownups go to work every day and create amazing designs for the Lego company.
(Side note: Stay tuned to this site for an interview with one intriguing Master Builder, who I had the privilege to meet at the Toy Fair in February.)
These guys (so far they’re all men…so far!) have vast amounts of knowledge they use as they build the custom sculptures for Lego displays. Now they’re breaking it down and sharing it with the new generation of builders. This is how it works:
You begin with the first kit ($29.99), that comes with a tray full of pieces, access codes to an online site, and an 84 page guide book that not only has the directions for building three different models, but information about the Master Builders themselves. The building directions are more detailed than what you find in a regular Lego kit, because the Master Builders who designed the structure share tips about building that specific model.
If you purchase the subscription ($69.99), for the next year you’ll receive a new kit every two months. Each kit builds onto the last, and increases in difficulty. As a builder advances through the levels, the tips and tricks related to higher levels of models are revealed. Building with Legos branches out from just coming up with new ideas for structures, to lessons in techniques like locking, model stability and sideways building.
The new website, set up just for the Master Builder Academy (“MBA” – clever, right?), expands the experience. It opens to a desk that has different options to click on. One option leads you to the parent site, where you can track your child’s progress. Click on the computer screen and a video walks you through all the options in the Lego MBA program. Go through the “member access” link and that’s where the fun begins.
The beauty of a website is that a product can expand to so much more than can fit in a box. My son loves reading through bonus tips from the Master Builders, looking at pictures of creations that other kids have made, and posting his own pictures. He has a chance to earn rewards and will be able to print out a Level 1 completion certificate once he’s accomplished all the tasks in the first few sets (the program continues for two years, slowly working up to higher levels).
He can find challenges online, which allows him to use not only these new pieces, but his kazillion old pieces as well. As he continues through the steps, he’ll learn how to make his creations more stable, what styling is all about, and how to use color to make his models more visually appealing. Any program that teaches him new ways to use these bricks that fill up my house is a hit with me.
We received our sample of the first kit in the mail about two weeks ago and my son has hardly put it down since. The first night he had it, it was almost hijacked by his older brother. He may be 18 and pretend he’s not into Lego anymore, but as soon as he saw the clever new pieces in that plastic tray, he had to dive in. Before his little brother could complete even one of the creations from the design book, my big kid had created two small creations of his own, fascinated by the new shapes and colors that came with the kit.
The unique pieces alone are enough to make this kit fun, but the idea that he’s learning basic techniques, from the experts, and will get to continue to increase his expertise, gets my son very excited. He’s practically memorized the guide book, which is packed full of interesting Lego related information, and was inspired to start designing some of his own new models, using the template of Lego Brick paper that comes in the back of the book.
For a kid who has been building with his big brother’s Legos since the day he stopped sucking on his Duplo bricks, it takes a lot to impress him. But this Lego Master Builder Academy did it. They’ve come up with something that made him dive back into his collection with a new excitement. And I love that the spark will continue, for months to come, as he keeps receiving new challenges in the mail.
My son’s only ten. Who knows where he’ll be a decade from now. I have no clue what college he’ll attend or what degree he’ll pursue. But I do know one thing. If the rest of the sets continue to be as exciting as the starter set, one degree my son will have hanging on his wall, will be a “Lego MBA”.