What I’ve learned from my kids: Lego

I used to have a lot of Lego as a child. I don’t remember Lego as being about themes and sets or kits, as it is these days, but there was always a brick or two lying on the floor, just ready to ruin your day when you trod on it.

From the age of about 4 up until 10 or 11 Lego featured highly on my birthday and christmas list, right up until my Dad surprised me with a ZX81 computer, and a book (or was it a magazine) that would teach me to code with 20 games to ‘load’ (type) in.

As with nearly everyone who played with Lego as a child I have very fond memories, and now I’ve got two boys of my own I’ve been enjoying the experience of Lego again. And my, how it’s changed!

It’s no longer a couple of boxes on the shelf in a toy shop, it’s now a whole section with Lego monsters, Lego buildings, Lego superheroes, Lego Star Wars, Lego Technic, Lego Creator, Lego Pirates, Lego Bionicle, Lego City, Lego Friends, etc.

Lego ToysMy boys (aged 4 and 5) love the building of cars, planes, bikes, helicopters, trucks, etc. from the kit and instructions, and then they love playing with them. The fact the scales are different and the plane is smaller than the motorbike doesn’t phase them or make a difference; the journey and the play is all important and all encompassing.

Both my boys are like me in that they are kinesthetic learners … they learn by doing and trying. It’s no use telling them which piece goes where, they need to try for themselves. Here’s what I see in their play and their use of Lego:

  • Instructions – not the be-all and end-all of Lego. Enjoy the kit and instructions, then put them to one side and build something out of nothing. Mix the pieces and kits together, aim for an idea or shape, and see what you get. Learn to be creative, make mistakes, make something that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
  • Dream big – Don’t limit yourself or them to something you’ve already seen: create and develop ideas around shapes, colours, symmetry / asymmetry, practicality (and impracticality), the recognisable and purely outlandish. Their imagination knows no boundary, so why should yours be limited as an adult?
  • Play – Don’t make something and put it on the window sill or shelf, play with it. For some the enjoyment is the making, for others it’s seeing what they’ve made. But unless you start the process of making something, there’s nothing to play with, nothing to gaze over, nothing to show or talk about. In kids it’s important that play can introduce different elements of social behaviour and interaction, and Lego can do this at the same time as helping with coordination, management, problem solving, etc.
  • Patience – They love to build and, like me, get frustrated when it doesn’t go according to plan. Show them how to overcome this and build it into the game: the plane, the truck, the monster, or whatever they were trying to build will be different to how the first envisaged it, but it’s still their imagination, it’s just a little further on and more developed than it was before.
  • Accessible – If everyone has Lego (and at their ages, all their friends do), then there’s something they have in common. Lego is a great builder (excuse the pun) of friendships and a good way to break down communication or social barriers.
  • Community – All their friends have Lego, in a greater or lesser volume that them. New Lego is talked about and shown off at school and on play-dates. Photos are shared between parents of the latest build. Kids want to take the finished structure to their friends house to play with whatever they’ve just built (you just try and keep track of the pieces as they come flying off!). We haven’t been asked to share Lego yet, but I’m sure it’s coming.
  • Structure – Games often have structure, just as a building will need one too. Lego has the ability to remove all known structural elements and get children to try it for themselves – we know larger bricks should be at the bottom not the top, but through their play and mistakes, what if they find a new mechanism they can take through their studies and play? The fact that they can try something different and learn from it (if it works or not) means they can think creatively and critically for themselves.
  • Flexibility – If the same bricks can build a horse one day and a truck the next, just think what my boys are learning about flexibility. Games are no longer limited to  the toy that come in the box, but any toy they can dream and build (even if it looks nothing like what they say it is to you or I). Their minds are open to change and differences, and Lego can instil a form of flexibility that is a powerful tool when during their growth into small adults, and eventually workers, colleagues, managers, business leaders, friends, mentors, etc.
  • Resources – How wonderful Lego is at teaching you to manage the resources you have! If you run out of 2×4 bricks you can easily use 1x4s or 2x2s as a replacement and still have the same results.
  • Engineering –  It’s easy to see how Lego can encourage and nurture a sense of structure and engineering, but being able to build with Lego is less about that and more about creativity and imagination. Very little that gets built by most of us is exactly the same as the shape it’s supposed to be (truck, car, house, spaceship, etc.) but we’re happy with it as it’s our own creation and it works just how we wanted it to.
  • Respect -Just because you wouldn’t build or design something like that doesn’t make it wrong. A different approach may end in a different result but it’s still valid and a worthwhile effort, and maybe something you could learn from too? Respect what others create.
  • Tidy up – Remember, standing on a Lego brick in the dark is worse than any known pain to mankind. Clear a path through the rubble of the fallen Lego sculptures and protect your feet.

“Lego reminds me that I don’t have to worry about where to start—that what I create will eventually fit somewhere, so I might as well just enjoy the process and play—after all, the word Lego comes from a contraction of phrase ‘leg godt’, which means ‘play well’ in Danish.”
Rabbit Hole, November 2014

Lego is so much more than the toy, it can teach (informally) so many of the skills kids need (and some adults too!) in day-to-day lives. We should all have some Lego around!

But what about my Lego journey?

I’ve also been able to get my Lego mojo back … I  like the complicated sets from the Lego Technic and Lego Creator ranges and have started collecting some of the ‘better’ ones – Lego Mini Cooper (20242), the Lego Camper Van (10220), and the Lego Supercar (8070). And what’s more, my boys both like to sit and help (they’re not allowed to build themselves yet, but that can play with them afterwards!), passing me pieces and telling me where it goes, and what I’ve done wrong, or I’m taking too long!

Lego Camper Van

What I really want, though, is the Millennium Falcon (10179), as showcased in this 3D build video, but at over £4k it’s a bit out of my price range:

Header image source: DonSolo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)