My son received his first box of Duplo bricks on Christmas Day 2010. In our family it’s the old faithful: Duplo bricks are played with intensely, and sporadically, nonchalantly and with intense focus. What do you do on a rainy day? Build towers. Where do you race Micro machines? On a Duplo racetrack. What do you deposit in every room of the house? Duplo bricks.
We have constructed Duplo bricks in ever so many ways, solving construction problems, and Doozer problems, as his baby brother greatly enjoys demolition.
For the past few months, my eldest son has been constructing various forms of a tower that we like to refer to as, “Howl’s Moving Castle.” They have involved using pieces of furniture as support beams or bridges, and have a fluidity to them that his little brother just itches to get his hands on. My husband and I have spent much time on Doozer defense. Certain structures are required to stay up overnight, some may be transported around the house. We are all about the blocks right now, and so when he finally got to see The Lego Movie recently, I knew we were in trouble.
Of course he has known for some time that the “little Legos,” “the real Legos,” and “the big kid Legos” exist. He has a tiny toy box full of Star Wars mini figures, which he is allowed to play with while his brother is napping. He and I recently took a trip to England, without the Doozer. Grandad’s Lego box (in England) was poured onto the floor for five days straight. Since getting back, he has demonstrated remarkable patience with our insistence on Duplo. He builds to his heart’s content, with only an occasional sigh of, “Someday he’ll be big, and then we can get the little Legos.” At four-and-a-half, he is still too small for the recommended age on the bulk of the Lego empire. But we had begun to wonder if this particular four-and-a-half year old was ready for some baby-brother-free, parent supervised, real Lego.
About a month ago, we hit a milestone of good behavior. So on Saturday afternoon, when I remembered a secret stash from the Grandparents, I pulled out some “real Legos” for him. What I had were Star Wars mini packs containing an All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) and an X-wing. The joy on his face when he saw the real Lego bricks, was indescribable.
The weekend of good behavior continued as he listened to everything his dad had to say. They went over the instructions first, and laid out all of the pieces. Toby was excited to speculate as to which piece went where, what its function was, and how the more peculiar pieces went together. Then step-by-step, they constructed first his X-wing and then his AT-ST.
My husband and I were both amazed at the way he took to this project. It is intended for ages six through twelve, and my son is four-and-a-half—a usually inattentive four-and-a-half. But for at least the first half of each project, Toby was able to follow the diagrams and join the pieces together himself. As it got more complicated he asked for assistance, preferring to follow his dad’s vocal directions than to have it done for him. He was so proud when he was finally done, we all were.
Then came the part he had been waiting for: Deconstruction and imagination. He proceeded to adapt the two vehicles: incorporating his favorite aspects of each into two very different machines. He had thoroughly enjoyed following the instructions, but he excelled in creating his own.
In the weeks since this day, a small Lego project has been his reward for extra-ordinary good behavior. We have gone through various Ninjago projects, and have some Pirates of the Caribbean to look forward to. Each time it produces intense concentration, good behavior and creativity. My son will color when the other kids color, paint when they paint, but those mediums have never been his go to form of expression. Apparently, with Lego bricks, we have found his artistic outlet.
I wouldn’t recommend packages that are labeled for ages 6-12 to any four year old, and certainly to none unaided by an adult. Just recently we hit the Lego aisle at Toys R Us to spend some Easter egg money, and we went through quite a number of packages for the same age group, until we found one that I thought he could handle. We chose Lego Creator 31013 Red Thunder, mostly because it contained instructions for three different vehicles, but also because it was the least complicated of the ones he was interested in. It was a bigger kit than the mini kits I had in my mama-stash, but he took to it just as well. This box provided him with more chance for experimentation, but as with every kit he has done thus far, he made it once per the diagram, three times for this kit, before getting creative.
While the Lego kits come out only during his brothers nap-time, he is more content now to play with the Duplo bricks when he knows the Lego is just around the corner. He has already picked out the kit he wants for his fifth birthday, the Coast Guard helicopter, and more often than not can be found in a corner of the living room, reading his growing stash of instruction sheets.
And another Lego geek is born.