“FIRST is more than robots. The robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills. They leave, even after the first season, with a vision, with confidence, and with a sense that they can create their own future.” – Dean Kamen, Founder of FIRST

After our daughter’s teammate chose the last programmed sequence, their LEGO MINDSTORMS robot rolled itself across the tabletop playing field, dropped down its arm, and began to push the car along the rail. Their little robot successfully pushed the car all the way across for the first time. Completing this last task propelled their robot performance to the top 5 at their first FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition! The entire team went wild knowing they had worked together to make this happen.

FLL is an alliance between FIRST and the LEGO Group where 9 to 14-year-old kids in grades 4 to 8 have “tons of fun while they learn to apply science, technology, engineering, and math concepts (STEM), plus a big dose of imagination, to solve a problem”. The program is built around core values focusing on teamwork, fun, friendly competition, learning, and what they call Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition®. For this year’s TRASH TREK, our older daughter and her teammates on their middle school’s robotics club designed their LEGO MINDSTORMS robot to complete missions on a trash and recycling-themed table-top obstacle course. They also researched and presented their ideas for composting food from their school cafeteria as a solution to an everyday trash problem.

All of the parents on our team were so impressed with the FLL program and how it brought out the best in our kids. There were 36 teams at the competition representing middle schools, public libraries, Girl Scout Troops, and independently organized groups of kids that want to have fun with robotics. In addition to FLL, there’s an FLL Jr. for 6 to 9-year-old kids as well FIRST Tech Challenge for students in grades 7 to 12 and FIRST Robotics for high school students.


  • Skills: Fine motor, curiosity, determination, teamwork
  • Preparation: None, in fact their website says “no experience required”
  • Cost: As part of our daughter’s school’s robotics club it was free for her. There arerules and associated costs to start a FIRST LEGO League team which includes 2 coaches, a 4×8 playing field table, internet access, a Field Setup Kit, registration, and a LEGO MINDSTORMS robot set.
  • Time & Energy: Our middle school’s robotics club meets once a week for an hour which is what the FLL recommends from September to March.
  • Contact Info: FIRST LEGO League’s website explains their philosophy, challenge for the season, impact of the organization, and how to get started.
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