My son has a fascination with Legos that borders on addiction. He has other toys with which he plays, but if they suddenly disappeared leaving only his Legos behind, I’m not sure he would notice or care that much. This love affair began at a pretty early age. In fact, he was requesting his first Lego sets before he had the ability to properly follow the instructions on how to build those sets. Mr. and I would dutifully spend 43 hours “helping” him construct sets he received for birthday and Christmas presents from grandparents and relatives all too willing to give him his heart’s desire (but not so willing to stick around and put them together).
I remember the first time he declared he was going to assemble a set by himself. I gave it five minutes before I would be brought in for support. But that never happened. He was quiet and diligent for some time, and I forgot about his construction aspirations. Way too long later, he proudly came to me to show off his successful completion of the project. Since that day, we have never had to help him build any Lego sets. Actually, he would probably get super frustrated if we tried to help him.
Here's one of his most recent kit creations. For a Lego set, it looks kind of simple. Don't be fooled. This Star Wars ship is composed of 3,567,000 individual Lego bricks.
Given that I was so excited he had applied himself and was smitten with something so STEM-y (I made that up…you can use it), I wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged his Lego love. I researched (that means looked on Pinterest) for ways to store and organize Legos and all those instruction booklets. I bought some binders and had life figured out.
Oh, foolish me! Legos can’t be organized, and those booklets won’t stay in binders. It’s like a law of science or something.
It was after the 12 millionth time picking up the pieces of the books when I realized this fact. It was then I was also struck with the realization that The Boy wasn’t really using them. I figured out he would dutifully follow the instructions the first time he constructed a given set, but after that the books were only being used to… You know, I don’t really know what they were being used for. I know there were a few times some pieces fell off while playing and he referred to the book to reassemble the set, but I have no idea why they were constantly scattered across his floor or why pages were ripped out. However, there was no reason good enough to change my mind from a decision I made right then and there. ALL of the books were going in the trash.
Here you can see most of the new sets The Boy was given for Christmas and his birthday. This is some sort of hybrid race/battle scene. I'm not exactly sure what's going on here, but I am sure that in a few weeks these ships and robots will slowly and continually have pieces removed and replaced, ultimately producing much more original creations.
When I informed The Boy of this decision, it was met with some protest but not as much as I expected. I informed him I was sick of picking up the books since he couldn’t seem to manage to keep them put away, and we could either throw the tiny 500-page manuals away or stop bringing Legos into the house. I assured him he could still use them for the initial construction, but after that they were toast. So that was the understanding we came to that fateful day.
Have you ever made one of those sudden and bold, maybe rash, decisions in your life that turned out to be surprisingly freeing and life-changing? This was one of those decisions for me. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I did feel a burden lifted.
Decluttering and preventing messes, therefore, was the initial reason I stopped storing Lego instruction books. However, I shortly noticed another benefit. The Boy started deconstructing his pre-designed sets and began making is OWN creations.
I know this looks like nothing recognizable, but it was constructed with a lot of thought and purpose. The Boy needed an abandoned building for his mini-figures to hide in and explore. So voila! Necessity is the mother of invention.
Yes, getting rid of the manuals caused him to use his own fantastic little brain. And while it’s impressive that he’s able to follow those sometimes-complicated instructions and make some pretty amazing things, I honestly much prefer things that are original to him. I have also noticed he seems to take more pride in showing off something he created by himself, and he talks about it more. I like to hear him explain his thought process and describe the various features of whatever it is he has built.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely anti-instruction book. I think learning to correctly follow directions is a much-needed and necessary skill (that a surprising number of people lack). I feel, though, that this needs to be balanced with independence, creative thought, exploration, and learning.
Little Mama was given a Lego Friends veterinary clinic set. She initially constructed it according to the provided instructions, and it stayed that way for about four hours. She then decided she needed a house for her mini-figure dog. Using pieces from the veterinary set and the massive collection of loose Legos we have, she created this dog house. She's very proud of it.
I’m not alone. Since I made the decision to let go of the booklets and noticed my son’s creativity benefit as a result, I’ve read a few things here and there discussing the same issues I've mentioned. Here’s a link to a BabyCenter blog post by Charlie Brooks expressing similar opinions to those I’ve presented. This Psychology Today article sites studies showing that dependence on instruction manuals can kill creativity. I'll be honest that I am skeptical about the methodologies used in the studies, but I think Garth Sundem makes a great point towards the end of the article about how GPS navigation, Google's instant answers, and even ready-to-cook meal kits are affecting our ability to both follow directions and think for ourselves. Lastly, I love the sentiments expressed by Steve Vasallo in this Forbes article. If you choose to read just one of the articles to which I have provided links, let it be this one.
(Please note that links provided to an article or site, do not mean I endorse everything in the article or on the site. I am simply trying to provide further and different insight about a topic.)
Little Mama has been working on a hotel. Isn't this much cooler than following instructions to build the Waldorf Astoria?
In summary, there are two main reasons we no longer keep Lego instruction books. The first being that I got sick of picking them up. All you mom’s out there feel me, right? More importantly (though kinda accidentally), getting rid of them has allowed The Boy (and now Little Mama, who is starting to get into Legos) to tap farther into his amazing imagination. If you take great pains to preserve these books, take a second and think about why you’re doing it. Doing so changed, for the better, the way we play.
Here’s a handy tip! If all those instruction books must be a part of your life, you can find them online! There are tons of sites I found dedicated to housing Lego brand instruction manuals. There’s no need for binders or any other inventive way to store all that paper. Here’s a link the official Lego site where you can search for instruction books on the web.