The best thing my parents did for me was to not buy me very many toys, and continually add to our stores of lego. My brother and I were lucky to have had just a few toys growing up. I had a rainbow coloured dinosaur toy that one of my mother’s friends had given me when I was sick in the hospital. The toy we played the most with was Lego, and if you throw out the manuals and mix the Star Wars, Moana and the Jurassic Park sets together, Lego is one of the best toys kids can have.
The Lego Company found out decades ago that if they sell their boxes with diagrams of something you were supposed to make, they sold many more boxes. Why? As Seth Godin points out in his Medium article entitled “Stop Stealing Dreams”, having instructions lowers your risk of getting it “wrong”. Even if, as we can logically assert, there is no wrong answer in building stuff with Lego, nevertheless we prefer and even insist on having a kind of compliant answer box that we can say we have achieved.
My brother and I have a giant box filled with Lego, all un-separated and chaotic. We built anything our minds could come up with, and if it was rubbish, we pulled it apart and started from scratch. We kept all of the blocks, but we threw out the manuals, as we weren’t boys that wanted to follow the templates. We made a pool table by stacking duplo blocks on our dining room table and taping them to the sides, and houses that spanned over 4 boards of varying sizes.
Children are incredibly gifted at learning new things, and I think it isn’t because of something unique about their brains that we somehow lose in the process of ageing. They learn so fast because they are born with a willingness, even an impetus, to make mistakes and try things out that might not work. It is through the process of outdated education standards, from following the blueprints and looking for the easy achievement state, that we dampen our ability to find novel solutions to difficult problems. Isn’t that the skill we need most in the 21st century?