In a recent post I discussed some of the ways that we, as a society, have changed the way we play, from a free-form do-it-yourself style to more the structured and rigid play typical of organized sports and computer games that force us to play 'by the rules.'
I just received my Sears Christmas Wish Book in the mail today (yeah, in September, I know...) and as I was flipping through the toys I paused to carefully examine the LEGO pages and I noticed something odd: in the four pages devoted to LEGO products there was not one set of basic LEGO blocks. Everything was a themed set, many of them licensed properties like Star Wars or Toy Story, with specially-designed blocks that pretty much force you to build the picture on the box.
What the hell? This isn't LEGO, this is a model kit. What are you supposed to do with it when you're done, take it apart and build it again?
When I was a kid my best friend had an enormous collection of LEGO blocks and we used to commandeer his basement rec room and spend hours building countless creations, including fleets of invading alien spaceships, bunkers and fortresses, and just about anything else we could imagine. There was never any preconceived notion of what we were 'supposed' to build with the LEGO, it was just a whole bunch of blocks that we could use to build whatever we wanted. What ever happened to that?
I was curious; does LEGO even make basic blocks anymore? I visited the official LEGO website to find out. It turns out that they do, but finding them isn't easy. I thought I would find sets of blocks on their 'products' page, but all I got was an endless list of their sets based on licensed properties. I tried searching for 'basic blocks' but got no returns. Finally I tried shopping 'by age,' and found basic blocks on the first page of the youngest age category, 3-4 years. LEGO still makes two sets of basic blocks: the Basic Brick set has 280 pieces and the Basic Brick Deluxe set has 650 pieces. Interestingly, as you search the older age categories the Basic Brick sets appear further and further back on subsequent pages, disappearing entirely by the time you get to the 9-11 year old category. Apparently, using your imagination is only for little kids; older children aren't supposed to think for themselves - they need to be told what to build and how to play. This is the age when they need to be expanding their creativity and critical thinking skills with more sophisticated projects, not crushing it by conditioning them to play by rote.
So, are we organizing and structuring all the imagination out of our kids? I wonder what would happen if we dumped a bunch of random toys on the basement floor and told them to amuse themselves. This type of anarchic play might even lead to some of them picking up ball gloves and going outside to play for a change. One can only hope.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"