No. No, it’s definitely not. But please do read on, don’t just go away safe in the knowledge that Lego will not break your children!
Did you see Ben Fogle is worried that Lego have “cheated youngsters and their parents out of any chance to be creative”. No? Well he is very concerned. It’s now too prescriptive and narrows imagination. But was it really better in the good old days?
How has Lego changed?
It was certainly different. The bricks were, in the main, a bit more generic. That meant with a smaller pack you could probably make more things. But I’ve been looking through this (amazing, bordering on scary) catalogue of Lego sets by decade. I’m a child of the 80s and early 90s, Ben Fogle is a child of the 70s.
Ben Fogle claims: “When I was a child, Lego came in brick form, you’d buy boxes of random bricks. You used your imagination and your mind in your build. Those multi coloured bricks could transform into anything you wanted, free from the mandates of prescription. There was no right and no wrong. Everyone was a winner.”
But, if you look at the boxes available in the 1970s and 80s, I think maybe we’re all misremembering. The majority of boxes were box sets that built something specific – a police station, or a farm tractor, for example. The instructions (which you can see in the links) were detailed, some of the parts specific to that model, and the boxes relatively expensive. All much like today. I’ll conceded that there were less specific pieces, more generic blocks, but it’s far from a massive change.
There were also big boxes of generic bricks in the 70s and 80s, the type we all seem to remember, but even these had suggested builds on the box and detailed instructions inside. And a similar thing is available today – you don’t need to buy the model sets, you can buy the Lego Classic sets – just a big box of bricks, just like the (perceived) good old days.
Have we changed?
I’m not so sure that we can pin the blame for our uninspired children on Lego. I wonder if it’s something us parents, the education system, modern life is doing to our children? Are “we” spending too much time “parenting”? Not letting them explore things for themselves? Are “we” teaching our kids to follow instructions blindly, to not think outside the box? I suspect there may be some truth there.
Are instructions bad?
We are only just dipping our toe into Lego, Girlbug is not yet four. She loves “princess Lego” predictably. At the moment, she helps me build the castle on the box, then she redecorates then uses it for role-play. In the picture below she’s added a rabbit, some pink hearts, a magnifying glass and a number of other trinkets to Ariel’s undersea castle, and got me to add an extra slide. She’s also added a bed on dry land for Sleeping Beauty, with a pool out back because Sleeping Beauty has adopted Flounder.
She doesn’t yet require us to build an exact replica, and she’s being creative. She’s learning how we read instructions, improving her fine motor skills, and honing her language and role play. All sounds pretty positive to me. And she’s far from unique in this. Only this week on Facebook, a friend posted a whole gallery of her almost five-year old’s amazing, unique, models. Maybe their age is key? Maybe we haven’t yet broken their spirit? And maybe the more simple Lego is easier for them to go off-instructions with?
And “pink” Lego?
The more observant of you will notice that Girlbug’s collection of Lego is predominantly pink. It comes in a pink box, and there’s even a Lego lipstick piece. I’m a bit torn on this. On the one hand, I would prefer a gender neutral building set, on the other, Girlbug wouldn’t enjoy it half as much. Girlbug is a product of her environment – princesses are what she plays at preschool, what she talks to friends about, and what she wants to build. While the “girl” toy aisle does on occasion make me roll my eyes, I can’t really blame Lego for getting on board, and given all the good things Girlbug is learning, I think I’ll let the colour slide. She might be getting a space station model for her birthday though!
What do you think?
Are you a fan of Lego? Do you wish for a simpler time, where the blocks were all just red and white squares? Or are you progressive with Lego? Is it Lego’s fault if our kids want to obsessively follow instructions? Is Lego just a tool like any other?
I’m firmly in the “just a tool” camp. Just as I don’t think colouring books limit Girlbug’s creativity by making her stick to a design, I don’t think modern Lego is hampering her either.