Recently, while mentoring a busy mom, the topic of Legos came up. I laugh because the topic of Legos comes up often. Such an innocuous toy to cause so much trouble.
The problem is that Legos are small and seem to be always underfoot. Many moms and dads reach a point of exasperation and want to pitch them out! I understand because I had kids and they had Legos. My grandkids have Legos.
In 2011, a dear friend of mine, Leah Spencer and her son Miles, co-wrote an article detailing their system for keeping Lego order. I have given it a rewrite and share it again because Miles told what he, his siblings, and cousins learned while playing the Lego Game. It will surprise and delight you.
The Lego Dilemma
Lego’s are my nemesis. We have tried many things to keep a handle on them. We’ve assigned drawers, organizing Legos by color and type. We’ve moved them to nearly every room in our house. We’ve put blankets down every time the Legos were used and then dumped them back into one enormous bucket. I’ve been frustrated but continued to try and balance my boys love for them with my intolerance for them.
Finally, I got a large table for the Legos. It was in a room with plenty of floor space for the kids to create. We only have one rule during Lego play. After they’re finished all Lego’s are to be put on top of the play table or under it.
Time after time they forgot. Finally, I was done. I wasn’t mean; I simply and dramatically put the Legos in a big bucket and stored the bucket away. I didn’t take care to keep any of their detailed structures intact. Tears were streaming down little boy faces as everyone sat and watched. I felt terrible. They felt terrible.
At that moment a scripture came to mind which I shared with the boys. “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” All they had to do was follow my one rule and they would have the freedom to play with the Legos. But when they forgot they had no promise, no reward, no freedom. It was an amazing lesson.
After that tearful incident, something changed inside me. I remembered what I had learned from Mary Ann. The thing that bugs you the most may be the spark that ignites your child. I realized that the boys learned so much through their Lego adventures. I knew that I wanted them to be able to play with the Legos. That’s why I had tried so hard to figure out the best place or best way to store them, how to make them manageable.
I told the kids that if they wanted to reopen the Lego Game, they would each have to write a letter indicating why they liked playing with Legos and vow to keep the one rule. The letters were so cute, and they understood them to be contracts. We reopened the Lego game (as they proudly refer to it). I asked my sweet son Miles (age 9) to write what he is learning from playing with the Legos.
WHAT CHILDREN LEARN FROM LEGOS BY MILES SPENCER
- We learn about money – The kids have designed a monetary system with values for gems,
pennies, gold, etc. As a family, we’ve talked about what people did before gold came into society, how money has inflated, etc.
- We build structures/infrastructure – I have talked to the children about architecture. I’m trying to inspire them to take the next step and design it on paper before they build it.
- We have implemented punishment – They have set up capital punishment! I couldn’t believe it. There are police and arrests made, but if you do something really bad, they have three choices of death! I didn’t even know they knew about capital punishment. But this has caused our family to discuss ethical issues, why it’s important to follow laws, the job of policemen, what it’s like to be in jail, how being obedient is freeing, etc.
- We trade, buy, and sell – They trade commodities, put a value on items, share, etc. We’ve briefly discussed capitalism and entrepreneurship.
- We have governments and there are rules – They have kings or queens, presidents and VP’s, Lords and ladies. They have had coups and impeachments. As you can imagine there have been many disagreements in Lego Game policy. They have had so much experience in negotiation and compromise. It’s been incredible! I could not teach these types of lessons as well. What fantastic leaders they’re learning to become from these small plastic pieces.
- We host live auctions – Eventually, one cousin decided to host an art auction.
- We have many jobs in the Lego Game – There are so many different types of jobs their Lego guys apply for. There are firemen, police, mailmen, and so many more. I love that they’re seeing the variety of work that is available.
- We use math – Even the three-year-old understands their nicknames – pass me a “twoer” or a “fourby”. They’re learning symmetry.
These are just some lessons my son mentioned and some that I have seen. I know there are more that I don’t see. Every time I describe the things the kids have been doing with the Lego Game people inevitably respond, “My kids would never be that creative!” If the environment is right I think any child left to himself will be more creative than you think.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INSPIRING LEARNING WITH LEGOS
- Make it a safe, relaxed environment.
- Let them play – Don’t do it for them. The 3-year-old comes up with horse and buggy carriages or spaceships on his own
- Playing Lego’s is a reward after chores and such. It also acts as an incentive to get up in the morning. They can play Legos until it’s time for breakfast. But if they sleep in there’s no time for Lego’s before breakfast.
- It’s their free time stuff and since they learn so much, I could not be more thrilled.
- Occasionally be Present. Sit and read in the same room while they play. This gives you an opportunity to see what sparks them and ways that you can inspire them. It’s also just a joy to see what they come up with. It’s a marvelous opportunity to be Present!
- Don’t make them take their creations apart every night. Find a way they can keep their city, or whatever they are building put together so they can add on and play again later rather than having to start all over. That is when the real creativity begins. My son said he
loves the Lego game not only because he enjoys building with his hands, but also because he loves to see his accomplishments when he’s done. He likes to continue to add to it day after day. We leave their structures intact on a shelf.
- Allow time. It takes time to get into presidential elections or auctions, etc…. they can’t get much done in 15 minutes. Allow time for Lego play.
- Have a huge variety of Lego’s. Buy pieces at yard sales, thrift stores, hand me downs from college kids, etc. Big Lego sets that show you step by step how to put them together are great, but kids lose interest quickly. The creativity is in the maker of the Lego’s not in the child.
I’m inspired and motivated by my children’s ability to learn and their level of creativity. I could have never imagined, and I can barely even think of what we would be missing out on if I hadn’t gotten over my negative thought patterns of “Lego’s are a mess” and “Lego’s are a waste of time”! Thank you, Mary Ann!
Leah Spencer is the mother of three boys and a girl. Miles is now 17. Here are two more articles about the Spencer family that you will enjoy. How being able to see what sparks your child can bring a lot of joy. The Spencer Sparks is all about different learning styles in children.