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Let go of your LEGOS; Local LEGO leagues in need of donations

Nicole and Will Page (Nicole coaches the Gray Team in the Jr. FLL and her son Will is on that team) fine-tuned their building skills at LEGO Family Activity Night at the Somerset Elementary Commons Friday, Jan. 31. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Somerset technical education teacher Eric Olson (right) and two of his students, Thomas Bauer and Wolfgang Ashton, showed Jr. FLL members robots they’ve built in Olson’s robotics class at Somerset High School. Jr. FIRST LEGO League director Beckah Whitlock said she hopes the boys’ demonstration helped get kids excited about next year’s FLL, where they will build small robots, learn computer programming skills and compete in contests. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Do you have any LEGOs underfoot or in your closets that need a home? There’s someone who would love to take them off your hands.

The success of the Jr. FIRST LEGO League in the New Richmond/Somerset area has taken even Beckah Whitlock by surprise.

Last summer she was looking for an elementary-age gifted and talented program for her middle son when she came across LEGO Leagues on another school’s website. The idea was a hit with her kids and LEGO mania formally debuted in Somerset. A testament to the country-wide LEGO mania is <I>The LEGO Movie<I>, which hit theaters Feb. 7.

When she kickstarted the program in Somerset, she never dreamed the idea would explode as much as it has. Roughly 70 area children divided into 13 teams participate in Jr. FLL activities. It has spread from Somerset to New Richmond, to River Falls and beyond.

“I’ve spent the whole end of the year catching up,” Whitlock said. “And I’m coaching two teams myself. We’re trying to start small. We had to take a step back to keep it manageable.”

In fact, Jr. FLL has become so popular that they desperately need LEGO donations, not just for their team meetings, but for a Lego Fun Fest to be held at the New Richmond Community Commons from 1 to 6 p.m. on May 10.

“We want to introduce everyone to what we’re about and to include area businesses in the event that maybe relate to us with their specialities,” Whitlock said. “Nobody really knows what it is yet.”

Those specialities could include anything to do with engineering principles, design, blueprinting, building projects, public speaking, computer programming, math science or technology.

Whitlock said the LEGO donations must be LEGO brand blocks or LEGO Duplos. That way they’ll work with the program requirements.

What the leagues do

The Jr. FLL teams, which include students from junior kindergarten through fourth grade, meet twice a month to work together on LEGO building projects. Each team has a coach to guide it. Essentially, they build models with movable LEGO parts, document their work and present it at team competitions, like the Spring Expo to be held 9-11 a.m. on May 10.

Whitlock said she likes these competitions because it allows kids to work on their oration skills, plus everyone leaves a winner. Her league is also unique because it includes children in junior kindergarten. Traditionally, Jr. FLL is for children kindergarten through third grade.

“You should see some of these 4-year-olds and the advanced things they build,” Whitlock said. “They build things a 10-year-old would make.”

Projects the kids build together can be anything from LEGO Launchers, Zipline projects, robotic models or free build models.

The theme for the Spring Expo is “Disaster Blaster.” The kids have been working on building models with movable LEGO components, motors and battery packs while learning about natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and tornadoes.

“It uses the basics of computer programming, math, science and technology in fun ways,” Whitlock said. “They’re learning and they don’t even realize it. My son can sit and focus and attend for hours. It’s a niche I’m trying to help him develop.”

At the Spring Expo, kids will have a chance to present their research, their LEGO model and talk about their “Show Me” poster.

LEGO Fun Fest

Whitlock is hoping to attract businesses to sponsor LEGO activity stations at the Fun Fest May 10, at the New Richmond Community Commons.

While the businesses would not be there to sell things, they could advertise with a large banner, hand out brochures and be involved with LEGO activities. Whitlock envisions one or two people from each business running a LEGO station and assisting kids. She’s looking for around six businesses to participate.

Another highlight will be local LEGO aficionado Dianne Kearns, who Whitlock described as “71 years young” and an expert LEGO builder. She will be there to show kids neat things that can be done with LEGOS.

Jr. FLL future

Whitlock said since Jr. FLL grew so quickly, she found it beneficial to partner with New Richmond Community Education. Though based in Somerset, many of the Jr. FLL events are held at the New Richmond Community Commons.

To help manage the quick growth of the Jr. FLL, and to facilitate more expected growth in the fall when new participants can register, the program will be consolidated into the St. Croix Valley Lego League.

The board members elected so far include Beckah Whitlock (director), Mark Wainionpaa (secretary), Trish Weldon (event chairperson) and Adam Delikowski (Web manager). Positions that need filling are assistant director and treasurer. As the program grows, more coaches will be needed as well.

Anyone interested in donating LEGOS, donating supplies or gift cards for contest prizes, helping with the LEGO Fun Fest, becoming involved with the Jr. FLL, registering a child for the Jr. FLL, or sponsoring a LEGO activity at the Fun Fest can contact Whitlock at 715-410-6476 or

LEGO donations for Jr. FLL can be dropped off at the New Richmond Community Education office at 421 S. Green Ave., New Richmond. They should be labeled “Lego League” or “Expo.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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