For a long time Mr J has been a huge fan of Lego. I remember him getting Cars branded Lego when he was only three or four, and him devouring it (metaphorically, not literally). He could follow the instructions and construct his Lego creations almost without help. I remember marvelling at the skills he was developing at so young an age, and relishing the fact that he was enjoying doing so.
Then he went off Lego. He still played with it, and claimed to like it, but he stopped putting together sets. He’d declare it was “too hard” and wait for someone else to do it for him. He still wanted the pieces once they were done, and he clearly derived comfort from them, but those problem solving and fine motor skills weren’t being utilised any more. When he did play with the Lego, it was mini figures. He would collect what felt like hundreds of them and stand them all up on a Lego base board.
When he turned seven he received his first Lego Mixels as a gift. He was pleased to receive them – they were Lego after all – but he never opened the packets or tried to put them together.
It was a few months later when he finally worked out what Lego Mixels were. and he fell in love (probably helped by the fact that they are also a TV show). Since then, Lego Mixels have featured heavily in his play and I breathed a sigh of relief that he was once again constructing. That his fine motor and problem solving skills were being utilised again. Given that Mr J has had a long standing aversion to writing/drawing, and that his fine motor skills are lacking as a result, I am a great believer in any activity which promotes them.
For months he would spend hours every day constructing, fixing and playing with these Mixels. And then I started to worry that the Mixels were hindering more than they were helping.
Lego – usually – is an incredibly open ended activity. You can use the pieces in any way that you want to make almost anything you want. But Mr J was rigid in his application. Only Mixel pieces could be used to make Mixels. Each Mixel could only be made the way that the instructions dictated. We had to re-order/re-purchase a Mixel because one piece had become lost, and we couldn’t just replace it. He loved the Mixels so much that I didn’t have the heart to re-direct him (though to be honest, I’m not sure how much success I would have had).
I worried that instead of helping him explore the open-endedness of Lego, the Mixels had just become a new item which must be followed rigidly.
It is now a year later, and I have never been more pleased to be wrong. The Lego Mixels are still a huge comfort item for Mr J, but they’re no longer used in such a dogmatic way.
A few weeks ago, Mr J was telling me about one of his Mixels. It was a red one that he had asked to re-order a while ago because it was missing a piece. Unfortunately Lego have discontinued the series one Mixels which means we can’t re-order them (which is still a problem when Mr J gets worked up because it is then that he becomes distressed that the pieces are missing).
“Oh,” I said to him. “Did you find the missing piece?”
“No,” he replied sadly. “I’m using a grey one instead.”
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not happy that the piece is missing or that he’s been able to replace it, but he has put a Lego piece that doesn’t belong to a Mixel on one of his Mixels. And for Mr J that’s huge.
A few weeks ago he pointed to a bunch of similarly coloured Lego on the floor.
“What’s that?” I asked him.
“It’s lands for the Mixels,” he said. “That’s ice, and that’s underground, and that’s fire…”
Free construction! He was inventing and making Lego without instructions, just from ideas in his head!
I came into the lounge room today to find him drawing on a piece of paper.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m making the Mixels lunch,” he said as he continued colouring in.
Mr J, who six months ago wouldn’t have drawn if you’d paid him, let alone drawn voluntarily, was doing just that in order to play with his Mixels.
“Did you show Christine the drawing you did today?” Nick asked him this morning.
“No,” he said, fetching the paper and showing it to me. “Look, it’s me as a Mixel.”
Suddenly his Lego Mixels had become the gateway I had been hoping for a year ago: a trigger to make him want to explore and construct Lego freely. But they had become much more than that, he was using him in play, too, prompting him to use other skills (like drawing and cutting) that he would normally neglect.
I’m so pleased that we let him spend so much time with the Mixels, using them the way he needed, until he was ready to reach this point. I’m glad we didn’t put them away as being a danger to his creativity. It was a long road, and it took more time than I ever thought would happen, but I’m so grateful we got there in the end.
Now I just wish I could find a way to keep them from taking over my lounge room…
What do you do to encourage creativity? Have you ever thought it wouldn’t arrive?