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.