Friday, June 8, 2012

Playing with Blocks

Reality Check Jumble, 2012

When I was a kid we didn’t have Legos. We had Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, wooden blocks and, later on, various generic interlocking plastic brick toys. I loved them, and being something of a solitary late-blooming kid, spent a lot of time on the floor playing with them and with Matchbook cars. I created, destroyed and rebuilt vast fanciful structures and environments. The untrained eye might have no idea what I was building. But to me they were buildings, mountainsides, rivers, cities and all kinds of other places and things.
At some point all those toys went away. I don’t remember the age when this happened. But I suspect it was long after other kids had replaced this kind of play with the more structured life of school activities, after school sports and such.
When my daughter was a toddler various kinds of Lego products started creeping into the house. Over time the various containers we used to store the Legos grew bigger and bigger as we added more Lego pieces to her collection. We weren’t big on buying sets designed to make specific objects, like space ships or aircraft carriers. The fun of Legos, we thought, was in how they were ambiguous enough—no moving parts, no mechanical elements, no anthropomorphic features—to inspire imaginative play.
Truth be told, I think I might have enjoyed the Legos more than our daughter. Every night after dinner we emptied the bucket of Legos on the living room floor and played with them until reading time or bedtime. We built elaborate towers and rooms and things that were unrecognizable to anyone but the person who made them. That they were identifiable, or not, didn’t matter. The fun part was starting with a pile of disparate pieces and ending up with something new when we’d found a way to use up all the pieces.   At the end of each night we took apart whatever we’d made, dumped all the Legos back into the bucket and started over fresh the next evening.
At some point my daughter moved from Legos to dolls to whatever came after that. This is perfectly natural. But I’ll admit that I was sad because we no longer got down on the floor each evening with a bucket of Legos and got into the flow of creating something.
Just recently I had a chance to enjoy some of that play again. A few weeks ago I took part in a regional planning exercise called Reality Check that requires participants to use Legos to decide where a projected increase in population and jobs will be distributed across an existing metropolitan area. It was fun to have Legos in my hands again, though in this case each little square block represented a few thousand people or jobs and you had to be very thoughtful about where you placed them.
More Play, 2012

I got to play a little more with Legos this week while participating in a creativity workshop conducted by NASA. The program was engaging. The people from NASA couldn’t have been more interesting and different from me. But the real treat was being given a small stack of Legos and wooden blocks to play with. I was in my glory again. I know I should have probably been paying more attention to the instructors. But given a stack of Legos there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to relive some of those moments creating fanciful little objects on the table in front of me.

 Still More Play, 2012

1 comment:

  1. God, that brings back memories. Eric and I did the same--I loved legos: they really instill creativity. You built some wondrous things here!