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That Way Madness Lies: Introducing Legos To Your Child

Nov19

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introducing Legos to your child

Hi Amy,

I am a huge fan of your blog, your advice and your writing in general. I have a soon-to-be-5-year old (December 21st) and all he seems to want besides a clean rock (he told us this today, what?) is ninja toys (which translates to Ninjago Lego sets). Knowing how much Noah likes the show and the toys, I figure you would have expert advice. Although he’s only five (I understand they start at 7+) I think he’s ready for the smaller Legos, and he will enjoy them.

My only question is do you have any ideas on where to start? I just googled them and no surprise there are quite few options. My head is spinning. The sonic raider looked cool and so did the temple, but I don’t know if that’s my inner Lego geek coming out and we should start smaller. I don’t want to overwhelm him, but we have two indulgent grandmothers clamoring for birthday and Christmas ideas and I’m a little confused.

Also, we have a 13 month old…have you mastered a system of storage to keep Ike out of the big kid Legos?

Any advice on this matter would be great!

Thanks!
Meghan

Oh ha. HA HA HA HA. All I can say is GET READY. Get ready to hand over all your money and clear surfaces. Get ready to never walk barefoot again. Get ready to find stray Legos in every conceivable (and inconceivable) place in your house, and to experience the sickening realization that the crackly-thump sound your vacuum just made was actually the sound of some SUPER-DUPER IMPORTANT IRREPLACEABLE PIECE, like Harry Potter’s hair or Kai’s golden weapon. Get ready to get really friendly with Lego’s (really awesome, at least) customer service and replacement part department.

Also, get ready to have a lot of fun. Because Legos are awesome. For you and your kid, and for your kid’s brain, motor skills, attention span, visual-spatial development, and all that.

But where to start? You’re right: The options are overwhelming. The age recommendations are confusing. The one Big Fancy Set your kid wants looks expensive and daunting, and in your day you didn’t have no $150 Star Wars Lego sets or customized roof tiles (ROOF TILES!), you had a big huge box of mismatched Lego blocks your mom got at a yard sale and YOU LIKED IT.

And you know what? That’s still a really excellent option. Pick up somebody’s handmedown stash at a yard sale or Craigslist. (Though considering how many kids and adults continue to build with Legos for many, MANY years, secondhand pickings can be surprisingly slim, at least compared to really age-restricted stuff, like wooden train sets or Duplo.) The sets inevitably crumble into a hodgepodge of loose pieces and parts anyway and your kids will then unleash their imaginations and re-build things however they want.

But yeah: That’s not always what indulgent friends and relatives want to hear around birthdays and holidays. So here’s how we introduced Noah to Legos around age five or so.

First, we bought a couple of the mini Creator sets. These come in nice small packages and build three different models (a truck, a plane and a tractor, for example). I would stick one of the boxes in my diaper bag and we’d work on building them at restaurants. Usually (with a little help), we could get a model finished in the time it took for our food to arrive. Then back into the box it would go, and the next time we’d build one of the other options. These sets are on the easy side but will really help lay the basic foundations of Lego building for your child: how to follow the instructions, what the basic pieces look like and how they can fit together, etc. They’re also be a good way to gauge your child’s skills, interest and attention span…and for under $10 a pop.

If you buy a “big” set for a five-year-old, let me tell you honestly that you will end up building it. Your child can HELP, but the bigger the box, the bigger the time commitment, even for an “expert” builder. This isn’t a bad thing — I personally love that Legos aren’t exactly instant gratification and require your child to work (and enjoy the work) before getting to play with the plane or castle or Super Mega Ultra Sonic Raider or whatever. But for a little kid, a 650-piece set with two 25-page instruction books, that’s asking a bit much. The Lego Creator and City lines have smaller, less-complicated sets that would probably be a better choice for a five-year old. You can get him a fire engine or a small house (or whatever you think he’ll like) to start, and build the set together. (Ezra got this car-and-camper set for his fourth birthday, and while he needed my help for the building process, he LOVES LOVES LOVES playing with it.)

But yes, it’s true. The City and Creator lines are not as “awesome” as some of the licensed or branded options, like Star Wars, Ninjago, Harry Potter, etc. And each of these lines DO offer “small” sets. Though in our experience, these little ones (typically consisting of a minifigure and some small bit of scenery), end up being fairly forgettable once assembled, and contain a lot of “weird” custom pieces that aren’t really useful. Noah insists on spending his allowance on them because they require less saving, then brings them home, builds them in about 10 minutes and then…eh. He’s finally grasping that it’s better to save and buy the set he REALLY wants, you know, the giant AWE-INSPIRING AMAZEBALLS ones.

So for a new Lego builder who wants the Ninjago or Star Wars or whatever sets but isn’t maybe 100% ready to build them him or herself, I’d recommend focusing on the minifigures. The Ninjago “spinner” sets can get your son all the awesome ninja characters (good and bad guys, ’cause you gotta have some fun bad guys to defeat, in my opinion), their cool swords and staffs or whatever the hell, and then Lego’s take on Beyblade/battle tops that can crash into each other and keep your child happily amused for quite a long time. Or however long it takes you to assemble whatever other crazy-ass giant Lego set Grandma bought him for Christmas ANYWAY, even though it said ages 8-12, but LOOK HOW COOL IT IS.

As for Lego storage and keeping them out of little toddlers’ mouths? Well, nothing is perfect. NOTHING. No matter what storage option you buy, it’s much more important that you seriously convey the importance of CLEANING LEGOS UP to your older child. Noah is usually pretty sensitive to the whole “Baby Ike might choke if you leave Legos on the floor,” but what’s usually even more effective is some good old-fashioned threatening. If your baby brother swallows your Legos, you won’t get them back until he poops them out and you don’t want to play with poop-Legos, right? Also: the vacuum cleaner. Keep your Legos off the floor or the vacuum will eat them and THE VACUUM DOESN’T POOP THEM OUT.

That said, we keep most of our Legos in a big drawstring bag that opens flat. My mother-in-law made ours, but it’s similar to something like this. The kids can open it up, play and build and have easy access to all their blocks but still keep them within a set boundary…and then it pulls back up into a bag when they are done. We also have a big plastic wheeled bin with a lid from Ikea, with smaller stackable bins inside to keep the most precious of the blocks separate and sorted (minifigures, weapons, teeny little cute accessories, Ninjao spinners, etc.). Noah occasionally likes to play with his still-intact, more elaborate sets up at the dining table or counter so his brothers aren’t bothering him on the floor. The wheelie bin lets him take his most prized Lego creations elsewhere, away from the Floor Of Lego Chaos.

Warning to anyone looking at the Lego-branded storage options on Amazon: CHECK THE PRODUCT DIMENSIONS AND USER REVIEWS. We ordered a couple thinking they were going to be these huge, awesome things and when they arrived they were LAUGHABLY small and ill-suited for our collection. And most of the bins and boxes that fold out flat into play mats do not fully close with zippers — there’s usually velcro involved and the velcro does a TERRIBLE job of holding tiny pieces in. If I’d actually gotten out a measuring tape and/or read the user reviews, I would have realized that I wasn’t ordering what I thought I was ordering. So…uh. Be ye not so dumb.

Photo source: Lego Kidsfest

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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27 Responses to “That Way Madness Lies: Introducing Legos To Your Child”

  1. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Nov 19 at 12:45 pm Reply Reply

    My son was crazy for Legos, a couple of things:

    - he rotated through them a few times. We would put them away only to be asked a few weeks/months later about them again.
    - some sets (after completed) are better to play with as toys than others. My son felt that the Star Wars sets were more for collecting than for playing with. But, he got lots of play out the Ninjago, Indiana Jones and Batman sets.
    - i would help find pieces, and he would build them. that was a great joint playing time for us.
    - Amy is correct about the Ninjago spinners– lots of play time for a relatively much lower price. A good value.
    - for storage, we use the clear plastic bins from the Container store. we picked one manufacturer and stuck to it, this way all the bins would stack and the covers would match (same theory should be used for sippy cups)

  2. jill Nov 19 at 1:19 pm Reply Reply

    We have two leg builders here now, an 8 yr old and an almost 6 yr old. While my 8 yr old likes to keep the sets together to build with them, my 6 yr old likes to take them apart and make up his own things using all the little joints and pieces.

    For the longest time we had all the lego in a big bin with smaller drawers for the mini figures, and a flat surface that was designated “built not-to-be-destroyed” lego (both sets and their own creations). We just recently seperated it all by colour, plus joints and mini-figures.

    I love the idea of a rolling bin – that is a great idea.

    As for the babies – we have one just about to crawl, and I’m just putting up a baby gate and telling the boys to keep the lego in their room or on a high surace. Since we also have a just-three year old who is super destructive, they have extra motivation to put things away right now, which is perfect.

  3. Kelli Oliver George Nov 19 at 1:26 pm Reply Reply

    We have two kids crazy here for  Legos – my 7yo son and my 5.5yo daughter.  For the money spent, we have certainly gotten the value in all the hours spent building them and then later, in imaginative play.

    We also started off with the very small sets and worked our way up.  

    For storage, I use those plastic drawer storage things with the “shorter” drawers (things get lost in deep drawers)  When the kids are actually in the middle of building, I have them put their pieces in trays (I used to make jewelry, so I passed along some of my trays to them).  All the instructions get stored in a binder – I just slip them in plastic storage sheets.

    And even with all of THAT, we still have pieces strewn everywhere.  Legos must contain rabbit DNA.  For real.

  4. Jessica V. Nov 19 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    I’m constantly looking for a better storage solution for our Legos (you know, other than the floor or the bottom of my foot). Amy – would you mind sharing the name of the IKEA unit you use?

  5. Melissa Nov 19 at 4:10 pm Reply Reply

    My boys also Looooove legos, word of warning, do not let them get into discontinued lego sets or you will be trolling ebay for first edition Harry Potter lego sets for way too long and for way too much money. My middle son (5) loves the lego city sets- he can build most of the smaller ones without help, and ninjagos are all the rage in our kindergarten scene, I’m sure they will be under our tree, along with an overpriced Hogwarts Express, and perhaps the lego Death Star if my 8 year gets his wish. introduce your younger kiddo to Duplos sooner rather than later so they have their own legos to build with. Duplos are equally awesome, my older boys “help” their 2 year old brother with new creations as well. If you have an old table that you can designate a lego table, we glued down the big green lego mats to a table for the boys to build on, and we own way too any plastic bins. Have fun.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Nov 20 at 9:20 am Reply Reply

      i love the idea of creating a dedicated Lego table by gluing down the green Lego mats. well done, mama!

  6. Adriana Nov 19 at 11:22 pm Reply Reply

    My boys are 12 and 11. We’ve had Lego’s in our house for a long time now.
    Regarding organization, what we found worked the best for us were the IKEA Trofast system- short shelves, not very deep, and you have the option of shelves or buckets. We’d mix it up. We’d use the shallow bins, along with two shelves for already made projects that they didn’t want to dump back into the bins. We started off with three.

    As for keeping Lego’s away from the little ones, when my daughter was born we put a gate at the boys room. They could open it but it would keep her out and the rule was no Lego’s outside of their room. It worked out very well.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Nov 19 at 11:27 pm Reply Reply

      great point about shallow shelves/buckets. In general, deep units = lost items.

  7. Natalie Nov 20 at 8:25 am Reply Reply

    My daughter will be 4 in a few weeks and was never crazy huge on the duplo sets when she was smaller…but recently she sat at one of those tables at the doctors office and went to town on the larger legos. I was considering getting her a set this chrismtas so thanks for the advice, I think I will hold off on the bigger more hardcore sets I was looking at and try one of the less crazy sets with an easier build…this was perfect info that I didn’t even know I needed! Thanks question asker and Amy!

  8. Zoë Nov 20 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    Another Lego crazy house here, and I only have one Lego builder, my son who is 8. His soon-to-be 5 year old sister is about to get her first set, and yes, it is a Lego Friends set. Judge me all you want, but if you knew my girl, you’d know it is perfect for her. If her brother were more agreeable to sharing his Lego, it would be a different story. Oh, and I have a two year old just waiting until she graduates from Duplo bricks. Anyway, when it comes to storage, I highly recommend giant Lego bricks I found at the Container store. The heads are crap, but we use the giant 4×2 boxes for bricks, and the little 2×1 box for Lego guys. And the coolest thing about them is they stack on top of each other and look awesome.

  9. Jules Nov 20 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    An educator’s two cents here- from a developmental standpoint, non-model-based sets are generally preferable. They offer infinite imagination-based play as opposed to the snazzy branded sets which offer a much more limited amount of creative options.

    • Cassie Nov 20 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

      Thank you! I was wondering where the non-set lovers were! :) My just-turning 3 year old is getting mom and dad’s general hand me down sets (we have a GAZILLION in two large bins from when were were kids) and I’ll be avoiding the specific character/themed sets as long as possible. (So… another year before he catches on and starts begging for them? ;))

  10. Heidi Nov 20 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    I’ll second Amy’s recommendation for just buying a big bunch of mixed Lego–if you buy new, something like the ultimate building sets. I find many of the regular sets rather restrictive; one of the greatest gifts my childfree younger brother has given my boys is a big laundry basket full of all the Lego he played with in his childhood over 30 years ago. My kids [4 and almost 8] love to invent their own creations, even though the older one does occasionally build a kit following the directions. However, the Lego in the hand-me-down stash has gotten the most play, supplemented by boxes of vehicle elements (mostly wheels) and architectural features (roof tiles, windows, doors) I bought from the Lego store online.

  11. Heidi Nov 20 at 1:24 pm Reply Reply

    Where did that smiley face come from? I never use them. Anyway, in case age specifications help, my older son is almost EIGHT. 

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Nov 20 at 1:54 pm Reply Reply

      Heidi, the smiley face appears when you put a “closed parentheses” after the number “8.” apparently wordpress reads that as an emoticon #factoid

      also, i fixed it so the emoticon doesn’t appear any longer

  12. Hannah Nov 20 at 3:02 pm Reply Reply

    Even if you buy the big branded kit sets, I promise that your kids will eventually tear them apart and rebuild them into all kind of cool things – and it will amaze you what they come up with.

    My two older boys are 7 and 4.5, and we have ALL THE LEGO, MY STARS – but they build entire fleets of ships, castles, all kinds of stuff. And all they’ve ever had were the branded kits because that’s the stuff they love.

  13. VandyJ Nov 20 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    I have a nine year old and a three, almost four, year old. My older boy is totally obsessed with Legos. We started with small sets and a couple of assorted brick sets. They have multiplied from there. My oldest is very into modifying the sets–except for the very special ones like the Millennium Falcon and X-wing Fighter.

  14. Jennifer B Nov 21 at 10:11 am Reply Reply

    We started off with the Creator sets just because that was a good value for the money – build three things out of one set!  And they were simple enough for my 5-year-old to master on his own.  At 6, he got the Kingdoms Joust set (recommended for ages 12-15) and put the whole thing together himself in one afternoon.  (Yeah.  We were surprised too.)  He has gotten a couple other “large” sets as well.  And once they are all put together the first time, he has a fantastic time taking them apart and building his own stuff.

    The storage thing…yeah, we are still working on that.  Right now it’s all in bins in his train table drawers.  Kind of dreading this Xmas b/c of course all he wants is MORE LEGOS.

  15. Jess Nov 21 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    My boys are too little for all of the cool, big Lego sets right now (they’re 4 months and just turned two years) but this post has me so excited for when they’re older and, hopefully, into Legos! I might have to start buying now, especially the Harry Potter sets. Thanks for all the great storage ideas! :)

  16. KelleyD Nov 21 at 9:39 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t know if anyone else put this info nugget out, I have a very wiggly near 7mo in my lap. BUT, you can buy Legos, by the pound on ebay. Use this knowledge wisely. I suggest NOT allowing the grandparents in on this knowledge. Let them spend their money on the spendy sets. My mom discovered it on her own I think. And let me just say, the answer is Legos. The question is, what we are up our eyeballs in?
    As for storage, we have one of those under the bed bins with the wheels on it. It’s about 6inches deep, and about 2x4ft ish. The long side is about the same as the width of a twin bed. It’s perfect. Kiddo can roll it out when he wants to play with them and roll it back under when he is done. Might need to do the same for the matchbox and hotwheels.

  17. Amy Nov 21 at 10:35 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter dumped our bucket of legos on the floor this morning. As she spread them out in a one-deep layer, I asked what she was going to build. Sincerely and serenely she answered “Nothing. I’m just making a mess.” They’re good fun.

  18. Rachel, BacknGrooveMom Nov 23 at 5:42 pm Reply Reply

    I am laughing at this post and discussion because it is so spot – on.  Legos are so fabulous – I think every kid plays with them in their own special way.  My older son just liked to create while my younger ons liked to follow the directions – NOW, we make ‘customs’ from the parts.

    I definitely find the buckets helpful (unless you need a piece on the bottom) – R

  19. Natasha Nov 25 at 12:05 am Reply Reply

    This is what we use to organize Legos:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0050JPUK6/ref=wms_ohs_product

    Works great, Skip the knobs, skip the wheels, and it will stay in place, not look tacky. Drawers come all the way out. It is awesome. My kid is careful, so if yours are really rough, maybe it won’t last as long, It isn’t the most solid thing. And read the assembly instructions carefully.

  20. Ellen W Nov 28 at 11:16 pm Reply Reply

    My boys – especially my first grader are way into Legos. We have a variety of sets – Ninjago, Star Wars, Superheroes, and Legos City along with extra bricks. My husband helps them build the sets and now my older son is starting to make his own creations and started requesting plain Legos (we have a Legos store close by). The boys have learned Legos are more for building, not for lots of play which is a hard concept for my 3 1/2 yr old.

    Legos has a really comprehensive website and my boys love watching all of the videos online. You can also subscribe to a free print magazine Legos and Legos Jr (for kids 6 and under).

  21. swoopbags Dec 01 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for for featuring Swoop Bags in your write up! What a great, in-depth article for Lego lovers! There are so many options out there. We hope you find our solution a great one. We love it!

  22. Stephanie Dec 02 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    I also loved the brick builder sets.  These are on zulily sometimes, at Barnes and noble, amazon, etc.  it’s a hardcover book with a figure and blocks.   You build around a dozen different things and they are grouped so that you can tell what things can be built at the same time vs things that use the same pieces.  DS is 5 now and our personal cutoff is around the $20 mark.  Sets that are over that price point are too complicated for him.  He enjoys te tiny bagged sets (think chek out lanes at target) and for $3-4 those are great rewards, as are the mystery minifigures.   He also thoroughly loved the box of random pieces that used to be his Dad’s that grandma had saved :)

  23. BMann Mar 10 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a drafting teacher so I use the Lego Architecture Studio in my class. It’s rated 16 and up and there’s some conceptual things high school students still struggle with.  

    For my four and half year old son, I just switched over from Duplo to Lego. He’s gone nuts. So I have I. I brought home two large Rubbermaid containers my parents saved from my childhood. Then I spent a decent amount on bulk elements from eBay I wanted him to have to start off with. (Wheels tires, the new curved and animal styled elements.)  My wife and I agree, that I went over board on eBay, so watch out.  Look up fair prices online before you buy.  FYI!!!

    We organize by element and bricks by color in Sterlite stackable drawers. I highly recommend it. There’s relatively no clean up time after you spend the initial time organizing. Then we move the drawers to what ever room we are playing with them. I toyed with leaving just a bulk random bin but I couldn’t do it. My son likes them neat too so we both spend a little time sorting before we build if things are messy.  
    I bought some large kits because I wanted them and my son helped me build them. I bought him a 7 and up set and he struggled with it. At four and five I would stick with the $5 to $15 price range for sets. I’d go with Creator, Juniors Easy Build or the general tubs of bricks.  Those have gotten the most play in my house. He’s built each Creator set multiple times.  

    Then at 6 and 7 go for the more complex sets.  

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