I Love It When My Kid Doesn’t Follow These Directions


My son, Mark, got a bunch of lego sets for his fourth birthday last year.  I spent a good hour one morning setting up for him a Star Wars spaceship, complete with tiny storm troopers.

It was actually kind-of satisfying to make something come together so perfectly (and much more easily than a piece of IKEA furniture).  I also saw how there was value in following directions.  If I had insisted Mark do it himself, he would have needed to call on his patience, his small motor coordination, and some perseverance.

Once the spaceship was completed perfectly, however, I knew it would begin its slow decline.  Pieces would break off, men would get lost.  It would be a lot of work to keep together a toy made up of 200 miniature pieces.


And then, since most Lego sets today are modeled after Hollywood characters, there isn’t a whole lot of motivation for children to come up with their own storylines.  It’s easier just to act out the scripts they’ve seen on the screen.

I’m passionate about imaginative play, so you can imagine my delight when Mark created his own ship from a box of legos by himself, with Arctic Batman, Mr. Freeze, and Aquaman riding on top, and said, “These guys are on the same team.”


I loved that he was OK about his creation not being a mirror image of what was shown on the box.

I loved that his ship was imperfect, wacky, and unlikely.

And it didn’t matter if the creation broke (which it did, over and over) because there was no one way that it had to be built. He could create and recreate things endlessly and always feel like each piece was exactly the way it was supposed to be.


A lot has already been said about how Legos’ introduction of step-by-step instructions and branded sets could deter imaginative play.  But I just want to say, Hooray to kids playing with these toys however they want.  And hooray to being on the same team.

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  • Brandon April 18, 2015, 9:18 pm

    I volunteer at a children’s hospital (in a variety of departments). It always amazes me how some kids can create “free form”, whether it’s building Legos, or doing arts and crafts. Yet other kids will just give blank stares of confusion when they realize that you’ve not provided detailed instructions. Even when building Legos on my own–and yes, I still do that at age 38–I much prefer to dig into a bin of “basic” blocks and just give free reign to my imagination.

    • Amy April 22, 2015, 10:06 pm

      Hi Brandon,

      Interesting observations. I wonder if it has something to do with personality, or maybe it’s just what the kids are used to.

      All the best,

  • Nina November 18, 2013, 3:51 pm

    My little guy does the same! We’ll maybe try and get it to look like the picture, but he’ll usually end up having more fun creating his own whacky things. And I mean whacky. The latest one he made was a garbage disposal lol.

    • Amy November 19, 2013, 7:21 am

      A garbage disposal! Wow, now that’s creative. More power to him, Nina!


  • Michele November 14, 2013, 12:07 am

    From day one, the Lego protocol in our family has been: make the item pictured on the box…admire for 10 minutes or so….then break it down and mix the pieces in with all the others. From this came many, many hours of imaginative play(for both my son and daughter), often I would find my son building his version of whatever event we had just come from…the circus, the stadium, the streetcar, the church, the movie plot…. They are all now grown, with imaginations intact and the Legos stored in boxes….pulled out for teaching scenarios or gifts to young family members. None of that came on the instruction sheet in the box

    • Amy November 17, 2013, 3:49 pm

      Hi Michele,

      It’s great to picture your kids constructing elaborate copies of your family’s experiences.


  • Clare November 13, 2013, 7:03 pm

    We are huge lego fans in our house and I can happily say Lego hasn’t deterred my kids from using their imaginations! My kids like the sets, but much prefer playing with the minifigures and creating stories. My son got a huge box of plain bricks (1600!!!) for his birthday and they have been building all sorts of scenes for their minifigures. Sometimes they are inspired by the things the characters are based on, but they definitely don’t just act out the stories. I think that is more of a parental worry than one a child would have. I think they inherently see the possibilities for creating. It’s us grown-ups who want the sets to stay perfect (and the minifigures to stay with all the right bits!) About once a month (or more often if he is feeling stressed out!) my husband goes and reassembles all the busted up sets and mutated minifigures, claiming it is to make sure we haven’t lost any parts…I think he just likes playing with lego :) And the kids mix them up all over again. Kids and their imaginations are wonderful things :)

    • Amy November 13, 2013, 8:36 pm

      Hi Clare,

      Great to hear from a lego enthusiast mom! I loved hearing the story of how your husband winds down by putting all the lego sets back together. Sweet.


  • Robin from Frugal Family Times November 13, 2013, 3:26 pm

    I totally agree with you, Amy. Our kids love following the directions and creating what the set is “supposed” to be – but after admiring that thing they made – they are just as happy to tear it down and build it into what they are currently imagining. That’s when the real fun happens – and their little brains get creative exercise.

    • Amy November 13, 2013, 8:34 pm

      Hi Robin,

      It sounds like our kids have the same pattern: first the “right” way, and then all the fun “anything goes” ways.

  • Vanessa November 13, 2013, 2:43 pm

    He is also very prepared for life as an adult since men don’t bother reading directions anyway, right? ;)
    But seriously, I love the point you make with this post. I am a big organizational crazy person sometimes, and it can be hard to let it go. But as moms it is important to let them create and play and make up their own versions, not just the ones they see pictured on the box. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Amy November 13, 2013, 8:32 pm

      So funny about men not reading the directions! My dad always says, “If all else fails, read the directions.”

  • Jen @ Jen Spends November 13, 2013, 11:52 am

    I have to admit the perfectionist in me makes it difficult sometimes to just let go and let my son play how he wants instead of following directions, and keeping everything neat. But once I get past that, it’s fascinating to see the creative ideas that he comes up with, completely disregarding concepts like scale or matching. Sometimes I envy his ability to just create and enjoy with wild abandon. We can learn so much from kids.

    • Amy November 13, 2013, 8:31 pm

      I loved it when you talked about your son’s ability to create with wild abandon. Why do we lose that as we get older?