Don't assume themed sets mean the end of creativity for kids.
- Randy Kulman, Ph.D.
Most of the LEGO and similar building toys sold today are packaged in sets with themes such as Minecraft, Star Wars and Ninja Turtles. These sets are designed with very clear directions for construction, so play becomes goal-oriented, with the intention to build the models as they appear on the box. While this type of play encourages planning, sustained focus, persistence and flexibility, it doesn’t allow complete freedom for kids to play as they choose.
Some experts might rue the loss of creativity and imaginative play that simpler LEGO bricks and other construction toys provide, but it’s possible for kids to use the more directive brick sets as they engage in open-ended. Here are some tips for boosting creativity and open-ended play possibilities with themed sets:
- 1. Encourage storytelling and other forms of creativity after kids have completed the construction of a set. Ask questions about what characters might be doing and the stories that they could tell. Engage in a back-and-forth storytelling game where you add a new part of the plot and your child responds.
- 2. After the set has been constructed for a while, encourage kids to take it apart and add it to other sets so they can vary their themes and stories. You might choose to buy themed sets that your kid would be more inclined to disassemble.
- 3. Get kids some large base plates or even a LEGO table on which they can combine a number of sets. This would allow kids to make up stories beyond those that have been encouraged by Hollywood or the characters themselves.
- 4. Try to prompt kids to think differently and creatively about the LEGO sets and pieces that they own. Many kids have boxes of unassembled pieces from previous kits. Rather than being stuck with the directions that came with the older kits, kids can create something different and new, try the pieces in a different fashion, and view success as making something new rather than completing an “assigned” task.
‘The LEGO Movie’ speaks to the need to go beyond the simple capacity to follow instructions.
- 5. Watch “The LEGO Movie” together. This movie has a fascinating theme in which only “master builders” can create things without instructions. The evil character in the movie, Lord Business (played by Will Ferrell), does not want any of his themed kits altered in any fashion and restricts the imagination and individuality of construction workers. In many ways, the movie speaks to the need to go beyond the simple capacity to follow instructions and to create on one’s own.
- 6. Combine and create. One of the primary strategies that the LEGO Learning Institute promotes for improving creativity is combining by coming up with new, surprising and valuable ideas to incorporate existing objects. This might include not only combining sets, but also adding other action figures, toys and objects to the construction design.