LEGOS: Still good for your head

by Laura Knight-Keating

When I was a kid, we had two cardboard boxes, formerly cases of beer, filled with Legos. Aside from Star Wars action figures and board games, I would say they were the toy that all seven of us – and this includes my parents – would play with together. I can’t actually remember what we built but I remember my dad showing us how to assemble the bricks to get the maximum amount of stability and fighting with my siblings over the flat base pieces and the windows. My kids have built some astounding structures with their Duplo Legos and recently graduated to the regular size Legos. When they became interested in Lego, I was super excited – having such fond memories of building for hours with my family as a kid. I was surprised when I first started shopping for them that you really have to look hard to find a set of just bricks rather than a kit with a set of instructions.

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I know this isn’t a new topic. Parents and researchers have been saying for years that Legos are less creative now that they are sold as kits and attached to all sorts of pre-established characters and franchises. In some ways this is totally true. It’s been proven that building with a set of instructions forces your brain to work in a different way. It’s a skill – probably no less valuable – but it does put a damper on one’s ability to think and create more expansively. I’ll admit I was a little annoyed at first for a number of reasons. For one, my kids can’t actually follow the instructions and yet they want to have the product on the box so it is up to me to immediately assemble the kit – (there goes my creativity!). I also felt like, because the pieces are so specific to the kit, that there was actually no way for the kids to do their own thing.

You would think that in nearly five years I would have learned never to underestimate my kids’ ability to see things from all angles wacky. The product on the box, painstakingly assembled by yours truly, typically lives for about two days. Slowly, pieces are extracted to construct something new or I step on it one too many times and disassemble every creation in a fit of rage. At the Lego Store, there is a wall of choose-your-own Lego pieces that you can purchase for set prices in different size containers. There are regular bricks as well as levers, little console pieces and tiny circles and squares that my kids love to use to construct elaborate control panels. You can also for $9.99 assemble your own set of three Lego people – each with a hat and a prop. My babysitter finds it a little disturbing when my kids decapitate all the Lego people and build a tower of heads…I think it shows a lot of creativity.

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Kids love to build. Mine start with Legos but eventually add blocks or an old Fisher Price castle – before you know it one of them is showing me their “tire swing” which is really a silicon watch band hanging off of a precarious tower of lego pieces which is attached to something else with a rubber band. I think you have to work pretty hard to completely rob them of their desire to create. And of course, all humans are different – even from the tender age of 2 or 3. There will always be the kids that build towers of heads and the kids that follow the directions – in toys and in life. Either way has a multitude of possible outcomes – positive and negative.

What I can say positively is that when I hear my son say – “Vivi, lets build!” – it’s music to my ears!

TAG/Laura Knight Keating