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Kids take on Jr. FIRST LEGO League Challenge

Whitlock’s youngest son, Jacob, 4, rummages through a tube of LEGOs in search of a specific piece to connect to his model at the family’s home Friday, Sept. 20, in Somerset. (Photo by Jordan Willi)

Ever since LEGO Bricks were first sold in the United State back in 1973, many children have enjoyed hours of using the imagination while playing with the tiny interlocking plastic blocks at some point throughout their childhood.

These days, LEGO Bricks are being used to teach children about the real-world applications of math and science through the international program FIRST LEGO League. That is exactly what interested Beckah Whitlock of Somerset when she was looking for a special program for her middle son, Joshua, who has asperger's syndrome.

“While I was looking for an all-day gifted and talented program I saw a link for this Jr. FIRST LEGO League and started doing some research,” said Beckah Whitlock, who started the Somerset LEGO League group for her three sons and other young children of the Somerset area. “I mentioned the program to my husband, Joshua, and my other son Kaleb, who also has autism, and they were like ‘Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Lets do it.’ So from there, we put it together and asked around to see if anyone else was interested.”

The Jr. FIRST LEGO League, which has programs set up in 17 countries around the world, challenges teams of 6- to 9-year-olds to design and construct a model with moving parts using LEGO elements and present their research journey on a poster at the Spring Expo. The theme for this year’s challenge is Disaster Blaster which has the children learning about storms, earthquakes, waves and other natural disasters.

“For this theme, the kids will pick a type of disaster to learn about, build a project out of LEGOs and build a poster board explaining their model and what they learned,” Whitlock said. “Everyone will get a medal or ribbon for participating in the Spring Expo where they will show their projects. I like that all the kids are winners in this and that the kids do all the work which teaches them a lot of new skills and forces them to use their mind and be creative.”

So far, Whitlock has 36 registered children who want to be a part of the LEGO League, but there are a total of 75 kids who have expressed interest in joining one of the many teams Whitlock is putting together.

“Having that many people already paid up and so many still want to join is just awesome,” Whitlock said. “There are six kids to a team, and I figured we’d have enough to fill two or three teams, which would have been awesome. But we had an amazing response to the program.”

And even though a normal Jr. FIRST LEGO League program is only for kids between the ages of 6 and 9 who are in kindergarten through third grade, Whitlock is allowing junior kindergarten students and fourth-graders take part in the challenge.

“We are going to allow junior kindergarteners, although not officially, but we will have teams for them to get introduced to the program,” Whitlock said. “We will also go up to fourth grade, too, since there are some kids in the fourth grade who ar 9 and we don’t want to say, ‘Well you are 9, but in fourth grade, so you can’t be in it.’”

Although the official signup deadline for this year’s teams was Sept. 20, Whitlock is willing to work with anyone who still wishes to join and make sure they can be part of the program.

“I don’t want to exclude anyone, so as long as there are enough coaches for the groups I have no problem with more people joining,” Whitlock said. “The total cost for each kid is $22. We trying to make it cheap for families so as many people can be a part of it as possible. That includes the official registration fee, the LEGOs that we are going to have to buy, that we don’t get donated, and their T-shirts, which are different colors for each team.”

One of the things that has Whitlock most excited about the start of the new program in October is that she was able to put together a team just for kids who have autism, like her two sons.

“Another cool thing is that we have a whole team of kids who are on the autism spectrum, because it is something they like to do,” Whitlock said. “It is a small group, so it is less stimulating and they like to work with their hands. This will allow them to really communicate with their hands through what they build.”

For more information on the Somerset LEGO League or to join the group contact Whitlock at 715-410-6476 or

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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