It seems that a popular movie, and a never-ending desire to provide children with opportunities to show their creativity, has made Lego the largest toy company in the world. They’ve now even eclipsed Mattel whose busty little Barbies used to dishearten us with how they were imprinting unrealistic body images on our babies. But a shortage of Lego says something that no cultural naysayers can refute. Despite all the electronic gadgets available to our children, the brain scientists have it right. Our kids still want us to provide them with tactile experiences and the opportunity for self-directed play.
I love a good news story, even if I have to read between the lines to find it. Sure, those little Lego blocks have an annoying habit of endlessly appearing in our couches and scrunching under our feet years after our children have grown up and left the nest. But what I love about a toy like Lego is that it offers children the chance to play without much help from adults. Much like finger painting (an activity I used to often use as a therapeutic intervention with delinquent youth), there is simply no perfect way to do anything. Sure, Lego Corp. tries to market the ideal mock-up of a space station or dinosaur, but after the instructions have been followed (if they are at all), the real fun begins. Our kids can tear apart what we adults told them to build and they can start again, enjoying all the wonderful new pieces that those fabulous sets offer.
There's something else I like about Lego. Not only is it time off screen, it is also likely to be time with an adult as audience. When my son was young, I remember a big tub of blocks being routinely hoisted onto the counter in our kitchen. While I cooked, my son created whatever he fancied. I’d sometimes get into building too, but more often I was just there as the appreciative audience, someone special to mirror back to him how wonderful his little creations were. At the very least, such moments guarantee that we parents will unplug and pay some attention to our kids. Mental health professionals these days are worrying about the level of distraction among parents almost as much as the social isolation that we attribute to children who are better at using an iPad than we’ll ever be.
What’s next after Lego? I can see the headlines now. New York stocks in mud puddles go through the roof as children go outside and enjoy unstructured play. Climate change is addressed when children start climbing trees and defend their leafy hideaways from overprotective parents who would have them come down. And wait, maybe, just maybe, storytelling at bedtime will once again be all the rage and sales of big fluffy pillows will bring economic renewal. Whether read from a tablet, or flipping paper pages, I can imagine a day when children will demand their parents put down their screens and read those darn stories over and over and over and over again. If a shortage of Lego hints at anything, it’s that maybe the good times are already here.