There is a reason LEGO bricks are one of the most popular toys ever made. They teach children valuable science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, spark creativity and can be played with in an endless number of ways.
When LEGO announced it would be opening a highly interactive LEGO Discovery Center in Springfield Town Center, kids across the Washington, D.C. area vied for the chance to become one of the center’s official Mini Model Builders. The title came with unique opportunities to advise the LEGO team about how to make visits to LEGO Discovery Center Washington, D.C. “awesome,” attend special events and get exclusive behind-the-scenes previews.
After an intense competition, LEGO selected six Mini Model Builders from the D.C. area: Elizabeth Russin, 11, from Vienna, Virginia; Lucas Mikhail, 10, from Sterling, Virginia; Mason McKay, 8, from Washington, D.C., Leila Alami, 9, from Ashburn, Virginia, Elena Freeman, 7, from Alexandria, Virginia, and Bryson Osborne, 6, from Burke, Virginia.
When Elizabeth found out she had been selected “it was a mix of disbelief and excitement,” her mother says. Elizabeth attended numerous events leading up to the center’s grand opening on Aug. 9.
She told Washington FAMILY that highlights of being a Mini Model Builder are “the amount of donuts that I was allowed to eat and getting to know other people who love LEGO bricks almost as much as me.”
Elizabeth’s mother, Lauren Russell, remembers that Elizabeth poured her “heart and soul” into LEGO brick building during the pandemic. The passion Elizabeth developed for LEGO building then shows no signs of letting up now. Russell encourages Elizabeth, an only child, to play with LEGO bricks often because they are the “ultimate STEM creativity toy.”
According to the LEGO Group’s 2022 Play Well Report, “[Nine] in 10 parents believe that play can help their child develop key skills for future success and wellbeing.” The report goes on to explain that LEGO bricks help build skills “such as creativity, communication, curiosity, collaboration [and] problem-solving.” LEGO bricks can help build strong families, too. When parents play with LEGO bricks with their children, there are “clear benefits for the family, such as creating stronger family bonds, improving family wellbeing and helping them relax as a family,” the report states.
Russell says her daughter plays with LEGO bricks for “countless hours” each week. While playing with them, Elizabeth gains valuable engineering and building skills while letting her creativity shine, her mother adds. Russell proudly describes her daughter’s creations, from a turtle engineered to have working flippers to a totem pole with a hidden house for Minecraft figures.
“We never dreamed there would be an opportunity to actually build off all of that hard work and effort and have something to show for it,” Russell says of the Mini Model Builder competition.
Another Mini Model Builder, Lucas, tells Washington FAMILY that he started playing with LEGO bricks when he was 3 years old. “I love how you can stick pieces together and build them into mini models. I can imagine anything and create it,” he says.
As part of his application to be a Mini Model Builder, Lucas built a mock-up of the 2024 Olympics in Paris out of LEGO bricks. “I included fencing in my mock-up since I’m a competitive fencer and love the sport,” he says. He also made a video explaining how his love of LEGO helped him make friends when he moved. Altogether, it took Lucas about 20 hours to build his Olympic mock-up, on top of the time it took to prepare the rest of his application materials. Lucas’s mother, Neveen Mikhail, says that Lucas spent the majority of his holiday break from school last December working on his build. “I loved this theme of the Olympics to showcase LEGO since it’s about breaking barriers of language and culture and using one common voice, in this case, the love of LEGO,” she adds.
Even after all that work, Lucas says he thought it was a “one in a million chance” that he would be selected. “I didn’t believe it when my mom told me,” he says. “I was very, very excited.”
Mini Model Builders get free admission to the LEGO Discovery Center for a year, and Elizabeth plans on visiting a few times a month. She says that she didn’t need any encouragement to apply to be a Mini Model Builder. She was excited that she would get to play with LEGO bricks even more.
Many other children share her excitement for LEGO, says Erica Card, store director and buyer for Child’s Play’s Chevy Chase location.
“[LEGO bricks] are the most popular items at Child’s Play. In fact, it is our number one seller in the store,” she says. Card explains that she often recommends LEGO sets to customers of all ages because they help develop so many different skills.
“Using LEGO works on fine motor skills, imaginary play and creativity,” she says. “LEGO can be therapeutic and relaxing. It helps with focus and problem-solving…it teaches engineering principles.”
Another thing Card likes about LEGO bricks is their use of picture-based instructions. LEGO bricks are “accessible to everyone…so if you struggle with reading or speak a different language, you can still build something amazing,” Card explains.
For the children who participated as Mini Model Builders, LEGO also provided an opportunity to share a passion with family and friends.
Elizabeth liked being on the news. “I shared the videos with my teacher, friends and family, and it was so fun to show them that there was so much more I could still do with LEGO bricks,” she says proudly.
At the LEGO Discovery Center’s grand opening, Lucas got to use a key made out of LEGO bricks to officially open the center. He thinks the center is “amazing” and says that he is “proud to be a part of it all.” Lucas especially loves Mini World and the LEGO ride. His mother says she is proud that Lucas got “to do something so unique and special” and is happy that he got to “immerse himself with something he’s been passionate about for years.” She adds that being a Mini Model Builder “allowed him to think outside the box and be super imaginative. I love that about LEGO since we need to nurture that creativity and thoughtfulness in our children.”
For kids who want even more LEGO, LEGOLAND New York is about a five-hour drive from the D.C. area. LEGOLAND is an autism-certified LEGO-themed amusement park with plenty of opportunities to meet your favorite Ninjago character, put out a “fire” in LEGO City, and more. The official LEGOLAND hotel gives families an even more immersive experience. legoland.com/new-york