Lego: learning or playing – is there a difference?

Lego is such an amazing brand and product.  The name comes from the Danish phrase leg godt which means to ‘play well’ and our boys definitely play well with their bricks.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by what they do with a pile of Lego.

Do they stick them together randomly?  Do they have a plan before they start?  Are they guided by what they see around them or what they’ve done themselves in the past?

Let’s look at the development of a lego builder and ways we canmn encourage each stage.

Following the instructions – fully structured

Lots of structure


At this point, our Lego builder uses the instructions as they are and interprets everything literally. Finding the bricks beforehand can help with persevering through a build but this might be done during the build process.  If our intrepid builder can’t find a mentioned brick then it’s possible the whole build will come to a halt.  The finished product will look exactly like the instructions and the builder will twist and turn the model to match it with the pictures.

What is learnt and what can we ask?

  • The ability to follow step-by-step instructions.
    • What’s next?
    • How do you know that goes there?
  • Hand- eye coordination.
    • You tried really hard there.
    • Wow – your effort is really paying off.
  • Perseverance – both in finding the bricks mentioned and putting them together in a specific way.
    • Some of those bricks were hard to find but you kept going.
    • I noticed that even though that step was tricky you persevered – well done!
  • Using diagrams in 2D to build a model in 3D.
    • (Pointing to the picture) Where is this on the model?
    • (Pointing to the model) Where is this on the picture?
  • Gaining knowledge of techniques used in this particular build.
    • How could we use this in another build?

Using the pictures – partially structured

Slightly less structure

In this style of building our builder looks at pictures for inspiration.  She might start to gather the bricks that she might need and try to fit them together in a sensible way.  There will be constant referring back to the picture to see what is correct and what needs to change.  There might be substitutions of colours or brick types to get the general idea of the picture.  Our builder might struggle with the back of the model if the picture is only taken from one angle.

What is learnt and what can we ask?

  • Making a plan from a picture.
    • What bricks might work well for this bit?
    • Does this look like any other build we have done before?
  • Compromising on what is possible.
    • What bits can we do now and which might have to wait until later?
  • Being organised.
    • Let’s make a plan: which bit should we start on first.
  • Checking progress against an ideal – the picture.
    • How do we know we’re heading in the right direction?

Just the imagination – unstructured

No structure

Our builder doesn’t look to anything beyond herself here.  Rather, she puts the Lego together in a way that is in her mind.  The model may or may not look like anything in particular to a casual observer.  Rather, it might just look like a random collection of bricks but some well-placed questions can help here.  If our builder has done lots of fully structured and partially structured builds then there will likely be some reflections of previous builds.  There may be a reference to something non-Lego related that is mimicked in the bricks and blocks.

What is learnt and what can we ask?

  • Hand-eye co-ordination.
    • Those bits look really tricky but you kept going.
    • That’s hard for you at the moment.  It might be something you need to work at.
  • Self-motivation and direction.
    • I noticed you used your imagination really well here.
    • You kept going even though it was hard.
    • You put together more bricks than last time, well done for pushing on.
  • Design and thinking skills
    • What does this bit do?
    • Is this something in the real world?  How does it work?

Is that really what is happening?

The way I’ve presented this might suggest there is a linear route through building Lego.  The reality is that an accomplished builder will spend time at each of these stages all the time.  I know I love following instructions and really struggle with the unstructured type of builds. However, I quite like the intermediate inspiration of other people’s ideas to get me going.

Our boys love Lego.  Son1 is great at following instructions by himself, whereas Son2 is just about getting the bricks to stick together.  We have really enjoyed a few books that inspire us.  I’ve linked to them below and highly recommend them.  Fully disclosure, these are affiliate links and if you buy through these I get some money that helps me keep this blog going.

I love this book, the idea here is that it is things you can build with bricks your are likely to have. We’ve had lots of fun with this.

Lots of great ideas in here. Some of them are a bit challenging for our 4-year-old but he loves looking at the pictures and trying some of the things he sees.

What is your favourite Lego model?  Here is one I got for my birthday (34) this year:

Not a motorhome but heading in the right direction

We’re launching a family blog about motorhoming over at  Join in the adventure with us.

Image credits go to my dear friend J.  He can be found over at and is well worth following on Twitter and Instagram.

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