Legos and open-ended play, a note from Bob Dean, Executive Director of GRCM
At the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, we concentrate on “open ended play”. When I am giving someone a tour of the Museum, I always stop at our Lego table to explain what that means. When Legos first came out, they were just a box of bricks in different sizes and colors. A child could make a car, then tear it apart and make an airplane, then a castle, or a ship or whatever. The outcomes were infinite – or completely open ended. This is the kind of play which does the most for developing imagination, various thinking skills, and several other key developmental assets.
Then Lego started coming out with themed kits in which you followed specific directions to make a specific item. One year, we bought my son a Millennium Falcon kit from the Legos Start Wars collection. He spent Christmas afternoon making it, and now it still sits on his shelf, untouched, fifteen years later.
I am sure that there are some important skills which develop through the process of following directions and making a pre-determined outcome, but developing imagination is not one of them. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way:
“Has Lego sold out?” New York Times, Sunday December 23, 2012
By the way, my favorite story about our museum and our Lego table (which is just loose bricks, fostering open ended play) was when a couple of parents tried to encourage their son to leave what he was working on and move on to something else. “Come on, we have Legos at home that we can play with.” The little boy gave a nod to one of our staff facilitators playing with him and said, “yeah, but we don’t have her at home.”
Note: Lego does still sell the loose brick kits: http://shop.lego.com/en-US/LEGO-Fun-with-Bricks-4628. I just checked and they are all sold out on the web site, so maybe people have re-discovered the joy of open ended creative play.