Monday, 9 May 2016

LEGO Harms Creativity Does It?

Ben Fogle has apparently made some strong negative claims about LEGO in a talk he gave recently.

He has been quoted as saying that LEGO kits constrain kids and have reduced LEGO to "into a rigid 'box ticking' discipline where children are encouraged to build by conformity."

Fogle summarised "My point here is that by selling cookie cutter kits they have cheated youngsters and their parents out of any chance to be truly creative."

Hmm. What utter nonsense. This just doesn't match our experience at all. It's been niggling away at the back of my mind since I first read his comments.

First there's the experience of the kits. My kids love Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Ninjago, Chima, Elves and Friends. They enjoy building the kits. Yes, there's the occasional moment of frustration as a mistake needs to be fixed but that's a pretty useful experience!

It's not just instruction following as Ben seems to think, useful as that is, they are also learning best practice building techniques. A lay person might think there's not much to learn about joining plastic bricks together. They'd be wrong. There's a reason that being a LEGO Master Builder is a thing. By following expert instructions kids learn good building techniques. My kids are always referring back to techniques used in sets they built years ago.

Once a set is built my kids will play with it as a set for a while. They'll recreate storylines of films or cartoon episodes and create their own stories. They'll mix up the universes and have some fun with them. Some sets last longer than others in their complete state.

Then after a while, they'll take the sets apart and use them in their own creations. At first I was horrified by this and kept trying to keep the sets together. Rooky LEGO parenting. Now I get it. The kits are just the first stage in the LEGO lifecycle. Once kids have moved on from being interested in a set you're not stuck with another useless plastic toy. Instead the LEGO goes on to the next stage in its lifecycle. This means that although LEGO is expensive, it's also good value for money.

The photo at the top of this article is of one of my kids boxes' of LEGO. Most of it came from kits that they really enjoyed at the time they got them. The pieces now get used in their creative projects.

My kids make all kinds of things with their LEGO. Recently they have made stop-motion animation, a town for mini robots, a motorised LEGO Mech and a Sisyphus automaton. The Sisyphus was made by following custom instructions using pieces from their collection, my nine-year old had to adapt the mechanism to fit the pieces he has. All of these activities combined creativity and engineering skill.

There's been lots of criticism of LEGO sets having too many very specialised parts. We haven't really seen too much of this. When it does happen my kids still seem to turn parts into others things. Something that an adult thinks can only be part of a space shuttle might turn into a pterodactyl wing in a kid's hands.

Far from encouraging kids to conform, LEGO tools them up. When my kids want to make something they'll turn to their (many) LEGO boxes.  Sometimes it's something practical like a pencil container; sometimes it's a recreation of a historical event, I once came down in the morning to find the Battle of Stamford Bridge being played out in the living room; sometimes it's a fantasy world that my boys have developed together; sometimes it's a gift for me that they can make without needing any adult assistance and once it was a mini memorial to their grandfather. In terms of turning ideas into reality, 3D printing has nothing on LEGO! (Yes, we love 3D printing too.)

My kids know their LEGO collection inside out. They know what parts they have and can readily choose the best part for a particular task. This is far from a 'cookie cutter' experience.

I just don't understand the complaints about modern kits being more constraining than older sets. With kits you get instructions to make amazingly engineered models. There's nothing to stop kids turning them into other things. And in my experience there's no way to stop them doing that! A wider range of pieces seems to make my kids more creative rather than less.

Some kids do keep their sets together. But those who are inclined to build creatively tend to have other LEGO too.

To be fair to Fogle, he was using modern LEGO as a comparison point for the state education system. Break up those kits Ben and make something cool with your kids.

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