Thursday, February 16, 2017


Grandad and Zane have been having some good times together bingeing on Lego. We have learned that the bigger more sophisticated models such as the Penguins Arctic Roller from the Batman Movie are perhaps best left until Zane is a couple of years older, but that the other models (pictured below) are doable and a lot of fun to do together with a bit of adult help. Even at three and a half Zane can follow the directions in the instruction books reasonably well. From a broader educational point of view the language interaction and social bonding that flows from a shared activity such as this has great value....


I have always been a bit dubious about the creative value of the modern trend towards Lego models that come with how to build instruction books. I feel these proscribed activities reduce the scope for imagination and play. From a distance (and through the lens of a teacher) I have always thought that this kind of Lego is a bit like 'painting by numbers', endless banal television viewing or those repellent articles called childrens 'colouring in books' which are a kind of meaningless 'busy work' activity that some people give their children on rainy days to keep them quiet and stop them from fighting with each other.

 The Penguins Arctic Roller from the Batman movie - (My next motor vehicle)

Despite the fact that there are times when anything that occupies noisy children is excellent therapy for adults I have always thought these activities vacuum the creativity out of childrens brains with all the finesse of a giant lipo suction machine. 

Paper, pens, glue, paint, string, boxes, hammers, nails etc, etc, etc, (and old fashioned free flow non proscribed Lego) combined with a good amount of time and an appropriate area to work in, is far more likely to facilitate creative thinking and problem solving skills than any of these other mindless activities.

Lego is coming under fire from Lego traditionalists with accusations that building a specific model with an instruction book is reducing the scope for imagination and play. Some parents have become increasingly alarmed that Lego kits, whether it is Star Wars or Minecraft, which involve building a specific model, using specialist pieces according to strict instructions takes away the pleasure and ambition involved in a child just sitting with a box of Lego bricks and creating something from their own imagination.

The Lego traditionalists state that Lego for them was always about creativity, remaking and improving on existing designs - "Those things don’t happen with sets that are designed to build a model of a single thing. But that’s not the only problem – Lego taught me the art of creative destruction – the need to break something in order to make something better. Single outcome sets encourage preservation rather than destruction, and sadly that makes them less useful, less educational and in my opinion less fun." 

In response a Lego spokesman has stated - " Children still get bricks and they can combine them. The bricks will probably end up in big boxes in homes and that acts like a pool of creativity".


........... Why exactly did dickhead Grandad purchase these Lego sets in the first place. Good question. And the answers are an interesting collection of the multilevel ironies and paradoxes that make up our contrary adult decision making.

- On one level Grandad saw some Lego Models in a shop and in an unmindful manner thought he would purchase them for his grand child.

- On another level Grandad actually wanted the Lego for himself (Many second childhoods have been launched on lesser motives) and in an unmindful manner purchased it in a full flight of duplicitous fancy. (The word 'unmindful' in this sentence is, well, yes, debatable).

- The outcome was that Grandad found that he quite liked the certain meditative aspect of concentrating on one single idea as he constructed the first model by himself, because of course ho, ho, ho it was imperative that he knew what to do before sharing this model with his grandchild.

As I write the above I now remember that large numbers of adults are now spending a lot of time with large bumper sized colouring in books as some sort of harmless and helpful meditative activity of sorts, which sort of complicates my arguments and shows that context plays a big part in many things and that we shouldn't be in too much of a rush to pass judgements. I guess there is something certain, predictable and satisfying about some activities where the outcome is known and the quality pretty much guaranteed...... and to be fair, this is pretty much what boat building is all about. You follow a plan and work towards a known outcome........ hmmmmmmm.

The solution? I will purchase a big box of free flow Lego so that Zane and I can be really creative together and extend our social, language and negotiation skills and I will continue to purchase Lego Models (And construct them by myself first ... of course, just to make sure the pieces are all there..... as any Grandad worth his sailing salt water would do)...... and we will continue to facilitate all the other wonderful creative opportunities that are available to him as his world enlarges.


Bursledon Blogger said...

I have similar thoughts about lego kits. One plus point however was that at age 5 or 6 Joseph was following instruction ( which he called up on his iPad!) and was building these kits on his own. Clearly not creative but understanding how to interpret and how things fit together, different but still useful skills.

Downside is we have a house full of lego models which don't really do much nor get played with,

Alden Smith said...

You are correct about "understanding how to interpret and how things fit together, different but still useful skills".

I think that a useful approach to take is that so long as children are exposed to a very wide variety of experiences and activities you can't really go wrong.

Our Grandchilds inclination on seeing Grandads completed models is to deconstruct them as quickly as possible and have a go at making them himself - and in doing so he gains self confidence, a sense of mastery and good 'completing the task' behaviour. So I guess it's all good.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

"So I guess it's all good." Absolutely... I think we run the danger of over analysing what we're up to... modern Lego kits are no different to the Airfix model Spitfire kits we bought at our age - that kit would only make a Spitfire, but we all bought them and similar models in their hundreds... Osc is coming on 4 and he and I often have a sit down and play with his Duplo (big Lego) but it's only a matter of time until he discovers small Lego... it's good fun just to sit and overhear the conversations he has with himself while he's playing on his own - no shortage of imagination... c'mon Alden - model railway or Scaletrix on the horizon?? :o))

Alden Smith said...

Steve, I guess on a certain level we can over analyse but as a retired teacher of 40 years experience who taught young children for over half of that time these issues are perhaps more apparent in my mind - but certainly it's not a hand wringing choice anyone who gives a wide range of experiences to their children need worry about - and in terms of experiences (here I go again doing a bit of preaching) the experience of giving ones self in terms of the quality of your social / language interactions is one of the most important things we can give our children..... something I read you do with your Osc - good on you! (and even better for him!).

In terms of education theory and its impact on the individual and their culture / economy - teaching systems that involve rote learning, the unquestioning following of rules (and instruction books) and the blind acceptance of unquestioned tradition often lead to economic outcomes based on imitation and emulation of others.

Systems that value creativity (free flow tubs of Lego LOL ), problem solving and questioning of the status quo often lead to economic innovation and originality as well (although this is perhaps a moot point) as greater freedom and fulfillment of the individual.

And yes I do remember those Airfix model Spitfire kits (I also had a bevy of Hurricanes!).. as for the horizon - probably more Lego for a while :> )

Dan Gurney said...

It's all good. A sheet of paper can be folded into a paper airplane. You can make model sailboats out of milk cartons. Legos have their place, but their best use is when they make something useful and never before built.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

When am I ever going to learn not to argue with teacher? :o))

I hear you, in all aspects of life we are constantly being presented with packaged and pre-prepared product, not only kids, but at all ages of life (microwaved meals, home brew beer kits, phones come loaded with apps, etc etc).. but I take huge hope from those little conversations I overheard Oscar having.. the toys may be less free form than in our day (and I agree with you), but his imagination still runs riot.. he lives in a little world of dinosaurs and Spiderman, where Iron Man battles dinosaurs while travelling in a fire engine.. cracking stuff... keeps us young... and unlike Max we get to give them back when we're tired.. :o))

Alden Smith said...

Steve, I am a retired teacher but not the font of all knowledge so you can argue with teacher all you want! LOL - and from what you describe about the interest you are taking in your sons activities I think someone like you will be doing a cracking job as a dad.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, I agree, something original as the product of a creative mind always shines brighter than mere imitation (and much more healthy for the young developing mind).

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Alden - grandson - way too old for going through those shenanigans again... :o)

Alden Smith said...

Steve, change it to cracking job as a Grandad!