Choosing between FLL and FLL Jr

A quick look at eligibility requirements for FLL and FLL Jr may leave you scratching your head.  So what do you do with a 9 year old, if either program is an option?  Let’s examine the two programs, as it may help with the decision.

Before we dive into the data, let's note that both programs have a different challenge topic (theme) each year.  As a result, both programs are very repeatable.  The kids can use programming and project management skills from one year to jump-start the next year, but they’ll be solving all new problems and learning about a new STEM topic each year.

We try to keep this document up to date, but pricing and schedule information is mostly from the 2017-2018 season, as 2018-2019 season information isn't yet available. Some information is Virginia- or Roanoke-centric.
US age requirements: Ages 6-9, on Jan 1 of challenge release year. (Kids who don't turn 10 until after Jan 1, 2018 can do 2018-2019 Mission Moon.). Lower age limit is not enforced. “Ages 9-14”, on Jan 1 of challenge release year. (Kids who don't turn 15 until after Jan 1, 2018 can do 2018-2019 Into Orbit.)  Lower age limit is not enforced in some regions.
Size of team 2-6 2-10
Equipment needed (reusable each year, per team) WeDo 2.0 ($185), a laptop or tablet to run it with (you probably have something, or $35-50 for a Kindle Fire, if you install the Play store), an inspire set (included in registration fee). EV3 set ($350-500) or SPIKE Prime, a laptop/computer/tablet (strong preference for laptop), field setup kit ($75), 4x8ft table ($100-200 to build)
Registration (per team) $99 (includes inspire set) + $35 for an Expo (region-specific)$225 + $150 to VA/DC (includes qualifying tournament) + $150 (2017 price) if you progress to the state tournament.  
Format Non-competitive. Do what you do.  Rules are vague in spots, and you won’t be judged anyway. Competitive. Judging and awards.  Core values say that “what we learn is more important than what we win” but competition is clear at tournaments.  Important to follow the 30+ page rule book carefully.
Timing: Challenge release is August 1, Expos are mostly in February-April. 1-2 hours per week for 12 weeks is sufficient, but you could expand the season by doing more preliminary work with the WeDo or delving more into the challenge topic. Challenge release is August 1. Tournaments are in November in VA/DC.  2-4 (or even a lot more) hours per week needed, with many teams doing more.  The time pressure is real.  
Curriculum: Jr includes a session by session meeting guide (comes printed with each Inspire set, not online) and color workbook for each student.  Very doable for a rookie coach without much extra time. Some curriculum materials available, but much more open-ended = a lot more rookie coach planning time.
Meeting format: FLL Jr includes substantial free/creative building time within the curriculum.  The kit includes enough minifigure parts for the kids to build themselves, and they will.  The final team model has few restrictions. No free/creative building time. The team will need to build a robot that does specific missions, and most teams only have time and parts to explore a handful of robot designs before refining one.  
The Project and challenge topic Learn about the topic and build a Lego model showing how the challenge topic could be improved.  Present the team model and a poster to reviewers.  (Kids can do more if they want to.)Learn about the topic, a problem with the topic, and propose a solution/improvement.  Consult with experts and/or members of a community affected by the problem.  Some teams build a (non-Lego) prototype of their solution.   Give a presentation to the judges.

So what should you pick for kids on the line?
Start-up costs and time commitment are much less for FLL Jr.  It is a much easier program to start as a rookie coach and less workload for both kids and coaches.  
An apparent downside to starting in FLL Jr for a parent-coach is that you’ll need to buy a WeDo now and an EV3 in a couple years when your kid ages out of FLL Jr.  However, the cost of the yearly FLL registration is so much higher than FLL Jr participation that you won’t actually spend more money, even if you don’t resell the WeDo when done with it.

When should you put a nine-year old into FLL instead of FLL Jr?  
Perhaps after several years of FLL Jr or similar experiences, where you feel like you’ve exhausted the potential of FLL Jr. Or for a kid with really strong research skills (i.e. science fair) and/or strong programming (any language) and/or strong skills with Lego Technic and who enjoys competition.  Or if your child’s peer group (or older siblings) includes kids who are too old for FLL Jr, and it makes sense to keep the group together.

This document was created by Cathy Sarisky, FLL and FLL Jr coach.  Feedback and questions are very welcome to