DUPLO, but not as you remember it

If there is one toy that Hannah has that me feel sentimental, it’s DUPLO. Regular readers of Blog of Dad know how fondly I speak about the stuff, and it’s with good reason. DUPLO and subsequently LEGO were a profound part of my childhood experience. The little red brick is the cornerstone of some of my happiest memories.

Regular readers also know how much I love technology. This year, perhaps more than any other year, has made me feel like I’m truly living in the kind of future that we dreamt of as kids. The main reason that I feel this way is the arrival of Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa has dragged the Blog of Dad house in the 21st Century. The more I use it, the more I can’t imagine life without it.

Imagine, then, combining the two. Imagine integrating the timeless, tactile, memory-creating qualities of DUPLO with the cutting-edge technology of Alexa! What kinds of adventures could you have?

 

Introducing DUPLO and Amazon Alexa

The most excellent news is that you no longer need to imagine this possibility, because the technical wizards at LEGO have made it a reality. Thanks to the new LEGO DUPLO Stories Skill with Amazon’s Alexa, these two wonderful products can now be combined to create all kinds of adventures!

Our friends at DUPLO sent Hannah and me the Steam Train and a 2nd Generation Amazon Echo, so that we could experience the future of play for ourselves!

 

DUPLO and Amazon Alexa on Echo

 

LEGO DUPLO Steam Train

The first thing that I noticed as I opened the package was that I had that same feeling deep in my stomach as I did when I was a child. There is NOTHING better than a brand new box of LEGO to remind me of that childhood feeling of excitement and anticipation. Judging by Hannah’s reaction, she felt the same way.

“Daddy, DUPLO!” was her first reaction, which was then repeated over and over as she carefully examined the picture on the front of the box.

As with all DUPLO sets, the Steam Train is easy to build. Hannah is now at an age where she enjoys reading through the instructions with me and following the steps. She still struggles a little bit with the precise placing of blocks, but together we construct sets quickly. The Steam Train can be set up in a matter of minutes, then the fun can begin!

 

LEGO DUPLO Steam train

 

Even before Alexa enters the equation, the DUPLO Steam Train set is thoroughly enjoyable. It comes with a basic oval-shaped track, a train (with one carriage), a station, a couple of people, a squirrel and some other bits and pieces. You will need a set of 4 AAA batteries, because the train packs its own punch when it comes to incorporating modern technology. It can be sent on its merry way through a simple push, or you can connect it via Bluetooth to your phone, which then becomes a remote control. While the controls are simple, the animations add an extra layer of hilarity to the whole experience.

Coloured sensors can be placed around the track to trigger events. Again, these add a layer of complexity to the play that increases engagement and extends the duration of the play.

Although this set only comes with a basic oval track, DUPLO has expansion sets available. With sets starting at $30, these could make great Christmas gifts from relatives. I can picture Hannah’s set becoming much more complex very quickly!

 

DUPLO and Amazon Alexa on Echo

 

Alexa on Amazon Echo

I have always been interested in new technology, so when I opened the delivery box and saw both the DUPLO and the Echo, that feeling of excitement in my stomach compounded. I was in new-toy heaven!

The Echo was easy to set up, although you will need to sign up if you don’t already have an Amazon account. In no time at all I was ready to test out the LEGO DUPLO Stories Amazon skill.

If you are not familiar with Alexa, Skills are like apps for the device. They enable Alexa to interact with certain things, such as smart home devices. In this case, the LEGO DUPLO Stories skill enables Alexa to interact with parents and toddlers by telling a story as they play.

The LEGO DUPLO Stories offers a wide range of interactive stories, to enhance the DUPLO play and encourage creative thinking. Stories include narratives based around animals (bird, cat, cow, dog and rabbit) and vehicles (boat, car, plane, train and truck).

 

DUPLO and Amazon Alexa on Echo

 

As Hannah happens to own two of those animals and four of the vehicles (including her brand new train!), there are plenty of stories to keep her entertained. The best thing about the stories is that they guide, but don’t prescribe exactly what must be done, meaning that they can be played and enjoyed over and over again!

The other great thing about the stories is that (other than the main character) the stories don’t rely on having specific blocks. In fact, the stories often urge the audience to think creatively about how they can make certain things. It is so-often argued that technology use stifles creativity in young users, but this is a clear example of amazing technology working with toddlers to stimulate their thought processes.

Hannah already knows how to harass Alexa into playing Baby Shark on repeat, so it will only be a matter of time before she perfects her commands for LEGO DUPLO Stories. I do wonder what her perception of Alexa actually is – I’m beginning to think she views it as a mystical genie that does her bidding. The reason I think this is because I saw her saying “Alexa, open fridge get cheese,” this afternoon.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m not usually the biggest fan of messing with a product that is already near enough to perfection. I also certainly don’t believe that technology needs to be incorporated into every facet of life, especially when children are involved. Tech for the sake of tech is never a good idea.

I am, however, impressed by this partnership between LEGO DUPLO and the Amazon Echo. The LEGO DUPLO Stories Skill is an innovative way of incorporating the exciting new technology of the Alexa voice assistant, with the absolute gem of a toy that is DUPLO. The Stories Skill has the potential to inspire creativity and enhance the play experience by engaging toddlers in an interesting narrative. I can picture Hannah enjoying many fun moments with these stories – creating her own brilliant memories.

 

 

Disclosure – The DUPLO and Echo products were provided to Blog of Dad, free of charge. The thoughts presented in this guide are entirely my own, based on my experience with the products. For more information, please see my disclosure statement.

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