Legos were an important part of my childhood – you may even say they were a building block for my future self (har, har). On the one hand there was the creativity implicit in the more general forms of Legos. On the other was my continued nit-picky ability to follow a pattern exactly. I might say that Legos developed some of my skills – attention to detail, fine motor skills, and spatial perception. I might also say that Legos helped to expand upon interests I already had – castle building, secret passages, and minute partially obscured doors. As a formerly embarrassed product of the short-lived G/T or TAG program in elementary schools, I also was ‘required’ to learn about engineering through several Lego build projects. But for all this, Legos were more about spending time with myself than learning or growing.
As the oldest of three, I was constantly on the lookout for things I could do by myself. I still remembered fondly those early days when I was not in competition for my parent’s affection, where everything seemed to go my way and familial decisions were based solely on me. Also, my sisters in their current form were annoying. A project like building with Legos, where i could claim they were ‘messing things up’ or that I needed certain pieces to complete whatever I was building. Still, if a sister persisted in ‘helping’ me, they often quickly became bored with the rules I set for playing with my Legos.
Today Legos are not quite as popular as they once were, being subsumed into non-physical technology. Why be limited by ordinary blocks that you can’t modify, or where a crucial part may go missing? Why not just build your own whatever online? Who needs something you can actually put your hands on? And with this continued era of extended movie marketing, why not expand themed sets? Who needs castle and pirate sets when you can get Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman, Spongebob, Harry Potter, Bob the Builder, and Thomas the Tank Engine? Who still buys the basic set?
When my dad was a kid, he had Erector sets and lower tech toys, and he went on to become an engineer. When I was little, I had tons of castle Legos and went on to study architecture in college. What are my children going to go into? Film? Television? Will they have degrees in media studies? While I must admit I am still enjoying and intrigued by the Lego website and all the wonderful little perks it has (check out my bluebird of coolness below), I wonder if we’re losing something by giving kids too many structured forms to play with, rather than the plain blocks and world around them that previous generations had. Are we giving them enough space to dream, enough space to really play?