Throw Away the Instructions

I am known for purchasing ‘educational’ toys, games and resources as an alternative to the endless (and often mindless) stuff available to children these days. I actively try to avoid games that provide little challenge to my children, offer violence as a form of attraction or sexualised concepts such as boyfriends, inappropriate clothes and makeup. I figure my 3 and 6 year old have all the time in the world to become familiar with these adult concepts, so in the meantime I will give them as much opportunity as I can to be kids. To use their ‘kid power’ to grow their creativity, imagination and intelligence all the while preserving their wonderful innocence of youth.

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So despite feeling like I’m pretty aware when purchasing toys, I have still made an interesting discovery about two well-loved toys, known for their ability to encourage creative and deeper-level thinking. Lego, historically, I am sure, has been responsible for the stimulation of creative thought processes in young inventors for many decades. More recently, Marble Run has blossomed onto the market, appearing nationwide in classrooms as students test the many laws of physics in order to have the marble race down the track to the finish line. Despite having these two sets of toys in our house for the past few years, it was only this morning that my children truly used them in an unadulterated, purely creative manner. And why, after all this time of having them in our house? Because I threw out the instructions for their use.

Marble Run comes with a variety of pieces that, when joined together can create mind-boggling towers and paths with which to run a marble from top to bottom. It is about deciding the most creative ways with which the marble can wind, spin, rotate and speed down to the end of the run. In the same game is a brochure demonstrating the sorts of structures the manufacturer suggests children could make with the pieces. When my children were given this game, they initially explored how to use the pieces and familiarised themselves with the concept. And then my son found the instructions along with the visual examples of structures he could make. The focus drastically changed. Instead of spewing forth with ideas and trials in creating his own structure, he held up the instructions and said ‘Mummy I want to make that one’. Suddenly his ‘kid power’ was switched off and he desired the easiest option available – that of imitation. He no longer was hypothesising, problem solving, imagining and creating. He simply wanted a copy of someone else’s idea.

So the instructions magically disappeared from the package one day in our house, never to be found again. Their absence has not been missed. And this morning we saw the benefits of this in my son and his sisters play. Not only did they both create unique structures, but when his top-heavy creation did not balance by itself, he was able to problem solve a solution. He learned the technique of counter balancing. He also learned the art of trial and error, as well as the skills of patience, turn-taking and compromise. All because he was working toward the picture in his head, rather than the picture on the paper. When both he and his sister had created their own structure, they then found a way to combine them both into a super structure, from which the marble could travel through extensively. The sense of achievement as the marble raced through its first successful run was immeasurable. The excitement and enthusiasm to better each run was infectious and the engagement by both children was high. Far more than I had observed in any previous play with the same equipment.

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So engaged in the creative process that he remembered the Lego packed away in the wardrobe. The big container was pushed out and the lid opened. As he dug through the box he unearthed a pamphlet showing once again a variety of suggestions of use that had once been attached to a Lego package. ‘Mum, I want to make a fire engine’. Back to square one. Now to have those instructions magically disappear………

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