Building with LEGO

How we got into LEGO

If, like me, you’ve ever wondered “what does LEGO stand for?” (namely “play well”, derived from the Danish leg godt) then you’ve probably already realised that in this case the name says it all. Although… when I was a child, I remember that we had exactly two LEGO sets at home: a large basic set in the form of an enormous Lego brick and some sort of Lego Robin Hood set. The latter belonged to my uncle, who was only a few years older than me. Both sets never really excited me as a child, but of course they were always waiting somewhere in the attic to be played with again.

My son is completely different to me when it comes to that. Of course, we started with LEGO Duplo because it’s easier for small children’s hands to build at the beginning. However, our buildings have never remained small. Most of the time, they were very tall and LEGO Duplo was then preferably combined with other toys. I still remember well that we once built pillars out of Duplo and then laid the tracks of a wooden railway on them.

However, the moment came when we took out the smaller LEGO bricks for testing purposes – my son must have been between 5 1/2 and 6 at the time – and from then on, LEGO Duplo was largely written off. Although he occasionally reverted to Duplo due to the familiarity and because it was a bit easier to handle, he quickly realized how many possibilites the small LEGO bricks offered, so those became his favourite. 

I have to admit that I was never really “good” at building with LEGO because I wasn’t particularly interested in it as a child. Fortunately, my partner is quite the opposite, so most of what my son learned so far about building, he either learned on his own or by observing my partner while he built all kinds of different things. That said, by the age of 6 or 7, my son was already building much better models of basically anything, than I will ever be capable of. He simply understands LEGO way better than I do but I still try to experiment and improve my building skills as well.

LEGO

Why kids are so much better at this

In this context, I’ve realised in the past few years that adults (myself included) far too often think inside the box when it comes to how things *should* to look like. Our perfectionist tendencies often lead to frustration. Especially when our creations do not look *exactly* the way we imagined them, and we miss out on all the fun. Also, we don’t get anything done with this mindset…

For example: thanks to my perfectionism, I sometimes spend half an hour building even the simplest structures. In the meantime, my son has already assembled three different spaceships with all sorts of different functions and characteristics. All because my creation has to look nicer in my head!

LEGO, Space Ship, building

Children simply go about this very differently than we do. Of course they might also have a somewhat specific idea of what they want to build. Nevertheless, children maintain a remarkable flexibility, both in reaching their goals and accepting the final outcome. In contrast, adults are often obsessed with building *exactly* what they have envisioned. This, in turn, allows little room for deviations and sometimes we get stuck in the process.

Children are usually not like that. If something does not work out, they make a new attempt, go about it in a different way. Although there may be some moments of frustration, children show much more flexibility and openness than their grown-up counterparts. They build, take everything apart 10 times and always rebuild it differently. The final result does not necessarily have to be what we would consider realistic. What matters to children is having fun and that, whatever they build, works for them. The rest is imagination and creativity. 

I find this very admirable and it always makes me realise how much we can learn from our children.

Basic or special stones?

Basic stones* already offer considerable creative potential, that’s for sure. However, the addition of a variety of bricks, significantly expands possibilities and stimulates creativity. Having a diverse range of bricks at hand allows for more detailed building and more complex models. In my experience (which might differ from yours of course!), once you and your children want to build more elaborate constructs, relying on basic stones alone may become limiting.

Transparent bricks, for example, can create completely new visual effects and add depth to a building project. Here they have been used to build a jungle temple and a few smaller decorative pieces, but of course there are no limits to your and your kids’ imagination.

LEGO

LEGO vs. no-name alternatives

While it is true that LEGO can be rather expensive, investing in the original product is often worth it for several reasons:

  • Durable Material and Colors: LEGO bricks, even those which are over two decades old, maintain their durability and vibrant colors. Compared to that, cheaper alternatives may vary in quality and color
  • Secure Connections: LEGO bricks connect securely, preventing accidental loosening during play and ensuring stable constructions
  • Safety Standards: LEGO sets adhere to strict safety standards. The materials used are safe for users of all ages (e.g. no toxic materials or sharp edges). Cheaper alternatives may not meet the same safety regulations, posing potential risks, especially for younger builders
  • Extensive Range of Sets: LEGO offers an unparalleled array of sets based on popular movies, series, games, etc., appealing to both children and adults.
  • Resale Value: Should you ever decide to sell your LEGO bricks, the resale price is much higher for original LEGO. That is the case because everyone is aware of the quality and durability of this product
  • Global Support and Warranty: LEGO provides excellent customer support globally and offers warranties on their products. Choosing original LEGO bricks ensures that you have access to support services and can easily replace defective pieces. Cheaper alternatives may not offer the same level of customer support or warranty coverage.
LEGO, building, creativity, Minecraft

Where to start if you plan to get LEGO for your kids?

Acquiring second-hand LEGO is a fantastic option if you have the opportunity. The durability of these bricks ensures that they typically remain in excellent condition. You just might have to clean them – for instance in the washing machine – if they have spent a lot of time in a box on someones’s attic. In order to clean your LEGO, put the bricks inside a pillowcase and a simple washing machine cycle should do the trick. This makes second-hand LEGO a cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice.

While it might prove difficult to find sellers, since many people hold onto LEGO for potential future generations, exploring online platforms, flea markets, second-hand stores, or asking friends if they know somebody who knows somebody… can potentially be successful. 

LEGO, building, creativity, Minecraft

Recommendations for buying new LEGO:

  • Start with Sets Featuring Basic Bricks: Beginners often find sets with basic bricks both enjoyable and less expensive.
  • Special Offers, Flash Sales or Promotions: Keep an eye out for flash sales, holiday promotions, and special events. LEGO sets may be offered at reduced prices (Black Friday etc.)
  • Open-Box or Gently Used Sets: Explore the option of purchasing open-box or gently used LEGO sets. Those can be significantly cheaper than brand-new ones. Online marketplaces, auction sites, or local LEGO enthusiast groups may offer these options
  • Compare Prices Across Retailers: Before making a purchase, compare prices across different retailers. Some may offer better deals, promotions, or exclusive sets that can help you save money on the LEGO sets you want
  • Set Bundles and Combos: Explore bundled sets or combo deals that offer multiple LEGO sets at a discounted price. Look for phrases like “LEGO set bundles” or “combo discounts” to find cost-effective options for expanding your collection
  • Consider Gift Opportunities: Given the fact that LEGO is rather pricey, consider purchasing new sets as birthday or Christmas presents. You can even pool resources with other family members to share the cost
  • Wait for Clearance Sales: Be patient and wait for clearance sales at the end of a season or promotional period. Retailers often discount older sets to make room for new inventory. This could be your ideal opportunity to snag LEGO sets at a lower cost!
  • Consider Smaller Sets or Themes: If budget is a concern, consider focusing on smaller sets or exploring themes that are generally more budget-friendly. This allows you to continue building your collection without breaking the bank

Be warned though: LEGO can be very addictive! You might soon find yourself looking for new sets, not only for your offspring but because you want to build more, greater, versatile buildings and sceneries yourself 😉

Our favorite LEGO sets

LEGO Pirate Ship 3-in-1

On my son’s wishlist for 2021 was – unsurprisingly – more LEGO because honestly you can never have too many bricks. I get that 😂. Naturally, not every wish could be fulfilled because it was a very, very long list. We were particularly drawn to this new version of a pirate ship though, because … well it’s simply an amazing ship… pirate or not. What makes this ship really amazing is the fact that it offers three different builds. Besides the ship itself, it includes a Pirate’s Inn and a Pirate Island. Granted, it is not exactly a budget-friendly set although I would still consider 70€ acceptable.

Still, with its 1260 pieces and the creative possibilities, we found it to be a worthwhile investment. Obviously you cannot assemble all three builds simultaneously with the included bricks. Luckily, the set provides all the necessary instructions, allowing you to recreate each build at least similar to the original, if you have enough bricks to play around with.

LEGO, building, creativity, Minecraft, Pirate Ship
LEGO, building, creativity, Pirate Ship

After all, with LEGO, the possibilities are as boundless as your imagination, and that’s what makes it truly special. By the way: this is what the LEGO 3-in-1 Pirate Ship* looked like after 4 hours of focused building. There were breaks for dinner and a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. No help from our side was needed and my son finished it only a few minutes before midnight. That’s how much he enjoyed building it. 

LEGO Creeper Mine

Although Minecraft was one of the games I really couldn’t get into for a very long time, my son was eventually able to convince me to start playing Minecraft with him on the Xbox. I admit the start was a bit bumpy and it took a long time for Minecraft and I to warm up to each other, but now I can understand the enthusiasm to a certain extent.

Obviously, it didn’t take long before LEGO Minecraft ended up on my wish list – and naturally, Mother Christmas delivered.

The very first set we purchased was the LEGO Creeper Mine*, followed quite quickly by sets 2 and 3 (The Training Grounds* & The First Adventure*).

LEGO

The sets are really well thought out and even the ‘standard version’ is a lot of fun to play with because the children already know the setting (in most cases) from the video game. The sets can then either be built and played with according to the instructions, supplemented with further sets, expanded with existing bricks or simply used creatively for their very own ideas.

More ideas

Inspired by Portal Knights / Minecraft

Once we had a few sets together and I had made friends with Minecraft (if it weren’t for those annoying witches with their potions and unpleasant laughter), we started to get really creative. As mentioned above, we were often inspired by Minecraft – simply put, we tried to creatively realise what we saw in the video game in our own way and build our own version of it with Lego. These were often mine shafts, tree houses, villages, caves, etc.

LEGO sets such as The Creeper Mine, or The Crafting Box* have inspired us to build for hours and hours straight and we would always come up with new and entirely different ways in which the bricks could be rearranged and combined, in order to create new stories and adventures.

Later on, we discovered a videogame called Portal Knights* (Xbox Version) which has brought an entirely new dimension to our building experience as it offered a unique source of inspiration. Eventually, we started translating in-game elements into tangible LEGO constructions, which allowed us to recreate and expand the stories and experiences from Portal Knights with LEGO.

The great (and probably bad) thing about LEGO is that there are sets for so many themes, films, series, games and so on. From LEGO technic to LEGO fortnite, LEGO star wars, LEGO city, LEGO friends, LEGO Harry Potter, there is hardly anything that doesn’t exist and there’s something for everyone. Of course LEGO wants to earn money with the sheer endless amounts of sets that exist by now. Children see the sets and recognise their favourite film heroes in them or can make a connection to their favourite games. Naturally, this awakens the desire – at least in many children who have perhaps already come into contact with LEGO – to have this and other sets. But is that really such a terrible thing? As we have already established, building with LEGO opens up a whole host of creative possibilities. Even if a set like this sits unused and gets boring for a while after you’ve built it, you can always take it apart and use it for new projects. Lost building instructions can always be found online, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to rebuild such a set.

School Projects

During the homeschooling time we experienced during Covid 19, there were several projects that the children were allowed to realise creatively. First of all, a big thank you to all the teachers who made the greatest effort to teach our children despite all the difficulties and not to lose sight of them. Especially in primary school, this was really not easy at times.

I can still remember one task in particular because my son really enjoyed it and was very enthusiastic about it. The task was to build a bridge with different materials and find out which bridge was particularly stable at the end.

For the version on the left, he primarily used basic LEGO bricks.

While the initial stability of the pillars posed a challenge in the beginning, he made various attempts that were more or less successful. In the end, he did find a way to make it work on his own. Besides LEGO bricks he used two folding rulers, temporarily some cardboard and tape.

Finally, we were able to festively open up the bridge to our matchbox cars. Regrettably, we did have to deny passage to the large amphibious vehicle, as its weight would have crushed the bridge in an instant 😂

LEGO, building, creativity, Minecraft, bridge, stairs
LEGO

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* Disclaimer

I get a small commission for purchases made through links in this post. For you, this has no impact on the price but it helps me to keep doing what I love and allows me to produce more content.

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