Strategizing a Lego offering
August 4, 2009 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a substantial Lego collection and a two-year-old. Eventually I will want to introduce the two. How best to do this?

I have lots of Lego -- vintage stuff from my Lego-mad early years, and quite a bit collected as an adult. Ownership of a big pile like this would've transformed my childhood, I like to think, so I am now overthinking how to pass it along.

My daughter is just about to turn two, so I have a little more time to strategize optimal Lego spoiling.

I can't figure out if it's just a part of the household and we start playing with the basic blocks soon and work our way through the troughs randomly, or if I should parcel out a few teaser sets and then -- hey! -- Look what Mum has in the closet!, or ?

I am looking to generate maximum Lego interest, of course. I am dimly aware that standards may have changed; the Lego I had as a kid was considered a lot of Lego then but probably wouldn't be now, but I think the current pile is impressive. All in lovely condition, and there are a lot of specialty pieces. The instruction booklets and some of the boxes are still around so it would be possible to repackage some sets as sets...

Short version: if your parent had a boatload of Lego, how would your childhood have been made most awesome with it?
posted by kmennie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
They would have said: "Hey Loto, here is a metric shit-tonne of Legos. Have fun."
posted by Loto at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

It would be great to model for her what can actually be made with legos and how to do it. In addition to letting her mess around, what about engaging her in a project that you work on together? I just remember making the same 4-walled house over and over cause I couldn't figure out how to make the awesome things on the set boxes.
posted by amethysts at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had (what I thought to be) a ton of LEGO kits when I was a kid. It ended up, over the years, to be one (fairly large) bucket worth. I gave it to my son a few years ago.

I don't remember the specifics, I probably just brought down the bucket from the attic and said "Hey, y'wanna build some stuff?", and gave it to him and let him go to town. He was thrilled. We didn't make a big production out of it, but we're not big production people.

He's still into them (he's 8). He goes through stages on what kits he likes - for a while it was Exo Force, then it was SpongeBob, then it was Indiana Jones, then it was Bionicle, and now it's some group that involves mining for crystals or somesuch. Of course, sometimes he just wants to build random spaceships with me. Mine always have flowers and trees and eighteen thousand wheels and wings.

(if you haven't seen it already, check out this site - it's the instruction books for pretty much every LEGO set EVER.)
posted by Lucinda at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

My two boys are LEGO fans. My brother-in-law dropped off his old-school set that he played with as a kid, and my boys went nuts.

My kids are older, though. Perhaps wait a while until she passes the "put small pieces of stuff in her mouth" phase?
posted by shino-boy at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2009

I have a 5-year-old and a boatload of Lego, some of it mine, some of it purchased for him. We started out with the Duplo (big Lego) Thomas the Tank Engine. He was thrilled about the train; I was happy about the introduction to Lego and putting bricks together.

When he passed the point of eating anything he could fit in his mouth, I dumped out a box of Lego and he went to town. As he got older he obsessed about 1) following the instructions and b) buying sets.

A few words about a). A pile of random Lego and a pile of instructions = "Mama, can you just find the pieces to this set?" which will, guaranteed, make you insane. Make it a policy to bag or box sets with their instructions with a policy of building these separately and putting them back in containers when they're finished. When he's old enough to find pieces on his own, then you can jumble everything up. Until then, separate, separate, separate, and keep a bunch of free-build Lego accessible (that is, somewhere he can play and doesn't have put everything away all the time).

And as for b), the promise of getting a new set (oh, how I wish I had kept the sets I owned separate!!!) is an incredibly effective reward/incentive. My son sells eggs and uses his egg money to buy new sets and loves to build on his own. I have been relegated to put-the-sticker-on duty. But I digress: Keep some sets back if you can. Too much Lego (is there such a thing?) really is too much for a small child, and doling it out can be a help.

The best part of Lego for him, though, are the times when he free-builds with me or my husband. Making time for joint Lego creation is key. Enjoy!
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2009

There's always the slim chance that your kid just isn't going to dig Lego for some reason. I thought it was kinda cool, but it was always kind of a take-it-or-leave-it thing for me.

Which is fine. But if you take the time to lovingly construct sets and present them with great fanfare and your daughter responds with only mild enthusiasm, you may feel a little let down, and that wouldn't be fun for you.

So you could do two things - either give her everything in one fell swoop, or pull out a basic general "starter set" and float that one day and see what the reaction is. If she goes nuts for it, THEN you can start getting excited and preparing different kits and all that; but if she just seems only mildly interested, then you can decide from there what to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on August 4, 2009

Two is a little young if all you have is Lego. At two, they're still putting a lot of stuff into the mouth that doesn't need to be there. I'd hold off a year or so, and then apply the "here, have a truckload of Lego" approach.

Do keep in mind that unlike in the olden days when nobody really cared about the minifigs, these days it is all about minifigs. Plan to be scrounging for new ones all the time.
posted by majick at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: I did the same thing. There should be a special club for us, or at least a trophy for awesomeness. I saved mine for 25 years (with a few sets I bought when I was a young adult with disposable income AND weed) and couldn’t wait to give them to my son but I wanted to wait until he was able to appreciate them.

We started with Duplo when he was a baby, which I would have done even if it wasn’t part of The Plan. When he was three (or maybe it was four) we bought him his first “Big Boy” Legos (Sorry, Lego brand bricks) which, again, I would have done regardless.

By the time he was five he had acquired a few more small sets and really enjoyed them. A couple days before his birthday (which was a Lego theme party because these days you’re required by law to have a theme for birthday parties) I sat him down in front of me, dropped my voice to a hushed, solemn tone, and gave him The Talk:

“So, you like Legos, eh? I mean, really, really love them, eh?”


“Remember how I told you daddy also played with Legos a lot?”


“Well, guess what? I saved mine.”


“Yep. And the way I look at it, these Legos are your birthright. And I’d be damned if I’m not going to let you have all these slope bricks and little yellow hands and faces. And now, little man, I give the Legos to you.”*

*I’m paraphrasing.

Here I showed him the four Rubbermaid bins of Legos.


And here I offer my first bit of advice: Don’t be disappointed if your child doesn’t fully appreciate it. While you’ve been waiting years for this moment, as if you were Obi Wan holding Luke’s lightsaber in your footlocker, kids at that age sometimes think toys just sort of happen. They don’t understand the significance of it.

I guess I over thought it a bit and expected it to be a huge moment in his life because I always figured if someone did it to me, I’d have had my first orgasm right on the spot. He appreciates them now but at the time he took it for granted.

Wait until she’s old enough to not eat them and dexterous enough to manipulate them, otherwise you’ll have to do all the building. Give her a few basic bricks ahead of time, enough to get her used to them, and then spring the rest on her all at once.

Some other random thoughts:

She’ll still want new sets. You can never have enough Legos and the new sets will always look better than what you have. I have a hard time not saying “You have enough Legos.” Also, even though Legos are much more specialized now, few things are more awesome than building a new model with virgin Legos.

Instructions for pretty much any set ever made can be found on-line, and if you look hard enough you should be able to find replacements for missing pieces.

Finding a single piece in a ton of Legos can be frustrating for an adult, double-so for a child. I’m still the official piece digger-outer.

You may think having a child as interested in Legos as you were would be the best thing in the world, but it can get tiring kneeling on the floor for hours playing with them along with your child, especially when he wants to build with you and YOU HAVE A REALLY AWESOME IDEA FOR A SPACESHIP BUT HE KEEPS ADDING CRAP TO IT AND IT’S TOTALLY RUINING THE AESTHETICS AND WHY CAN’T HE JUST BUILD HIS OWN DAMN SPACESHIP OK? So, um, yeah. The same goes for Star Wars. Careful what you wish for.

It’s really cool knowing he will probably do the same thing for his child (assuming he has one) and the Legos will keep getting shared through the generations.

So yeah, just do it. “Here you go, kid, here’s a ton of Legos. Enjoy.”
posted by bondcliff at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2009 [119 favorites]

My two-year-old played with Lego, by the way, because her older brother is obsessed with it. She was never a "EVERYTHING GOES IN MY MOUTH" baby, so we didn't have the safety concern.

I would give her the motherload as soon as she's old enough not to try to eat it. New cool pieces can be added as she grows to appreciate the wonder of Lego. My son gets to pick out small sets as rewards for filling up his sticker charts, and part of the pleasure for him is the browsing and anticipation.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:28 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got really frustrated early on with Legos because someone saying, "Here is a ton of Legos, enjoy!" really didn't match my learning style. And this is true to this day- I like to start out with a lot of focused 101-tutorials before I go all free style. I need some conceptual frameworks to work from. Having a couple of those like Star Wars kits where you build THIS ONE THING would have helped tremendously. And then, eventually, I'd go all free style. But just getting the materials with no 'tools' is useless to me.
posted by GilloD at 10:30 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe a few kits, but also random bags. Don't structure everything. Kids will make more wonderful things than you or Lego engineers can imagine.
Make sure you listen to the story behind each. It's all good.

Just educate/watch out for parts small enough to be swallowed, especially those little heads.
I know an adult who had a problem hearing in one ear, and the doctors found a piece of Lego deep in there from childhood.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:32 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

When she's old enough that her fine-motor skills are ready for legos, then I'd introduce them little by little in project-sized bursts, and wait and see if she changes things up a bit* after putting them together according to the directions. When my boys were small we got Lego Advent calendars to count down to Christmas --- each day had a little lego mini-project in it. There could be little mini-projects inside plastic Easter eggs, in goody-bags at birthday parties, in the occasional school lunch... then after these have piqued her interest and all you have left is "freestyle" legos, and it's rained for three days straight, you can say "oh yeah, I almost forgot I have these other 8 million lego pieces from when I was a kid, let's build a city!"

*She may not be the type who changes things up a bit & puts them together "her way," in which case your 8 million freestyle pieces won't be her thing.
posted by headnsouth at 10:41 AM on August 4, 2009

Ok, I'm pacing around my office all excited at what a kick-ass opportunity this would have been for me. My mom has all my legos in her basement and is hoarding them for potential grandkids. Both me and my brother spent, I kid you not, HOURS... WEEKENDS... thinking stuff up and building it. So, as you don't need me to memory-dump on you, I would say:

Forget the kits/separation. Put them all in a bin and that's that. Or if you're super crazy-anal, separate them by piece and color. Both my brother and I went free-form pretty early. Keeping kits together would have prevented this. We're both imaginative, autonomous, self-reliant, and able to sustain concentration for long time periods. I credit legos, and having to scrape through giant buckets looking for another "white, skinny, four-long".

Turn it over, all at once. Maybe 7-8 years old?

In my opinion, the older stuff is gold. The newer stuff is too thematic and has too many large single-use plastic pieces. You don't get to flex your own imagination enough. The golden age was when there was only castle/town/space.

I had an idea awhile ago to start some kind of lego-build where I solicited donations of legos, sanitized them, and separated them. I would arrange a meetup-style gathering at a coffee shop with a back-room, and have a thematic build for 30-or-so people (all ages). Alas, too many ideas, too little follow-through.

Anyways. Legos = The Best.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:56 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest starting with some Duplo that just gets the concepts in place early (putting blocks together and breaking them apart, assembling structures), then much later when the kid is old enough, adding regular lego, and some sets.

I'd suggest a very limited number of small-but-interesting sets alongside a larger but not overwhelming Lego pile, as this combination should allow the instruction of the sets to introduce more advanced building techniques and creative use of special pieces and result in fun models and toys, but because it's in the context of a larger bucket, your kid won't turn into one of those for whom the instructions are a crutch, or for whom the purpose of Lego is to follow the instructions, and never learn to freebuild.

(I've exhibited at Lego conventions, and it breaks my heart to see how many of the kids struggle to understand that it is even possible to use lego sets to build things that are not in the instructions. They've clearly been given lego sets, and play with them, but then at the exhibit they see models not made from the instructions and it blows their mind, and they don't understand how to do that.)

Which leads to another thing - when old enough, take the kid to Lego exhibits (the local enthusiasts club will probably have an annual show). There is nothing like an exhibit of amateur Lego enthusiast's free-built models to show "how wow - I never thought of doing that with Lego!" and fire up the enthusiasm and imagination.
(And you'll enjoy the show too)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:58 AM on August 4, 2009

Actually, it sounds like when you introduce your Lego, you're going to be right there with her, building alongside her, in which case the instructions won't be her only guide, so she won't end up thinking within that box. So the second paragraph in my answer above isn't necessary.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2009

Don't worry about kits for awhile. A pile of generic is appropriate like others say, whenever she won't try to eat them.

I have a five year old who loves Legos, but he's not quite at the 'follow kit instructions' level.
posted by poppo at 11:13 AM on August 4, 2009

Speaking as a parent of a little kid: Be prepared for the fact that LITTLE KIDS WRECK/LOSE EVERYTHING. Especially things with teensy specialized pieces. Also, I don't know if there is research to back this up, but I'm pretty sure there is a positive correlation between degree of wreckage and how dear you hold the item in question. I bought my daughter a vintage copy of a book I dearly loved as a child and she colored in all the illustrations with an orange marker then used the endpapers to create her own Pokemon comic strip. Cute... but not really what I'd envisioned.

If you're super sentimental about the collection, then I would hold off until you can trust the kid to respect the legos as something special. 7 or 8 maybe, and even then you're gambling. Unless you want to be that guy that hovers constantly, sucking the fun right out of it. (No! These pieces stay with this set! No you CANT take the legos outside/to school/to your friend's house/the swimming pool! What do you mean the cats ate it?? Why is this piece in the toilet?!)
posted by lilnublet at 11:14 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

Forgot to add that if you're not sentimental and really just want to share something you love with a little person you love, then just let her go to town, consequences be damned, and enjoy watching her make her own way (this is the fun part of parenting, btw).
posted by lilnublet at 11:16 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start with new sets, sealed in box. Wait until age 6 or seven, maybe eight to drop all your parts. Start off with set->directions->model->modifications, so the kid sees the limitations of working within just one set.

Buddy of mine, whom I only knew from age 13 on (so I didn' experience this directly) had an aunt who ran a hospital for kids. The hospital got large (24x12x16") boxes of random parts - not just bricks. Good stuff, like the masks from the original Castle set (I lost all mine..but I digress). The aunt always had *too*many* boxes for the kids in the whole hospital, and always mentioned this to my friend and his brother, get them salivating at the thought of one of these giant boxes. They still got sets here and there, learned to work within sets and within themes...and finally, after getting a couple years of dreaming, got the Big Box.

The giant fortifications they made could withstand multiple BB gun bursts.
posted by notsnot at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

This spaceship was made by my daughter when she was 2 1/2, and this airplane when she was almost three. I'm not just bragging, but also trying to show what a two-year-old can do with Lego: plenty!
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:37 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some kids are also on a different Lego timeline. My oldest son played with Legos on and off during his early years, and being a Legomaniac myself as a kid, I figured he would jump right in. It wasn't until very recently though, at age 9, that he was really into building his own things, working on Lego projects for more than 10-15 minutes and going on to something else. So don't be surprised if that toy doesn't stick immediately after introduction.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2009

I think 2-years is a little young still.

I took my 3-year-old to ComicCon the other weekend and we spent a lot of time at the Lego booth [].

He did quite well building with them, especially considering the crazy random pieces they had. He was quite disappointed when we had to leave the little car that he had built and was playing with. =(

I'm sorely tempted to get some for him but he still puts [crazy] stuff in his mouth and is more about smashing than building still.

FWIW, he's doing pretty well with his old school, orange track, and gravity HotWheels set.
posted by deanj at 2:59 PM on August 4, 2009

Forgot to say, boatload of Lego is already pretty awesome but the lego work tables with bins for the parts would have blown my mind as a kid
posted by deanj at 3:02 PM on August 4, 2009

I also have a ton of Legos that I thought I was going to Bestow Upon My Worthy Heirs. They do like, even love, the legos but they don't see them at all as an inheritance or even a Quality Resource That Shouldn't Be Tossed Around The Room.

I just have to grit my teeth and not yell (anymore) when I find precious, precious pieces caught in the carpet. In another room. That just got vacuumed.
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on August 5, 2009

We started my nephew off with Duplo Buckets when he was about 2, and continued that for two or three years, before we graduated to the next step up (something between duplo and Lego, if I recall). We finally bought him a "My First Lego" set this past year and for this years birthday, we got him a small star wars set. He's still in the, "Mommy, build this for me" phase, but he definitely loves lego. Mrs. Thabombsheltersmith and I are saving our stash for OUR little ones, but we're definitely Aunt and Uncle Lego as far as my nephew is concerned.

I would suggest holding off the lego stash until she's 6-8 or so. Much younger than that, and you'll be building stuff and she'll mostly watch, I would think. Not to mention the choking hazard! Have fun building!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:31 PM on August 5, 2009

I have two boys. The seven year old will build things with me, but isn't all that interested in Legos otherwise. My four year old loves Legos and will happily spend a whole afternoon alone playing with the bricks I'd bequeathed them. I love Legos, but they're not going to hold everyone's interest the same way.

I once spent a whole afternoon with the boys sorting all of the pieces into logically divided bins. It took about a week and a half for entropy to completely win back that battle. I'll have another go at it when they're older. Right now I just try to keep them in one room and out of the vacuum cleaner.
posted by Loudmax at 11:58 PM on August 5, 2009

This may be upthread somewhere but THE BEST LEGO ORGANIZER is this:


The genius behind this is that kids enjoy cleaning up because it makes cleaning up fun!

(sorry for the advertising-speak, hard to resist.)
posted by jeremias at 9:08 AM on August 6, 2009

Once when I was a little kid, for Christmas I received a box that was bigger than me. I mean, I had no idea what possibly could be in it, but HOLY CRAP THE BOX IS BIGGER THAN ME!


Yeah, that was awesome.
posted by gmarceau at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2009

I have a garage full of thousands of packaged hot wheels cars, after a friend who collected them as an adult decided to divest himself of them. Rather than bury my three-year son in an avalanche of cars -- knowing he'd get bored -- I dole them one at a time here and there at random moments, sometimes when he's earned it, sometimes when he asks, and sometimes when I feel like it.

The upshot to that is he really seems to appreciate each one he gets, because often I say "no". When I say yes (or just drop one in his lap) he's pleased as punch, and I cannot imagine dropping, say, three hundred of 'em on his head at once would get the same response that I get in aggregate from doling them out one at a time.
posted by davejay at 10:22 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the best Lego organizer is a thin bedsheet and a large cardboard box (like the kind boxes of Kleenex come in when shipped to the store.) That's what my parents did; they had one rule, "keep the Legos on the sheet!" and that was it. When it was time to clean up, they just had us toss any errant blocks onto the sheet, then picked up the four corners, pulled the whole thing up and dropped it into the cardboard box.

I suspect this type of thing is the reason I'm so focused on increasing efficiency through smart planning rather than behavior modification.
posted by davejay at 10:25 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the record, y'all -- I notice many people are saying that "2 years is a little young to give your kid Legos," but the OP isn't saying she'd give her kid the Legos NOW:

My daughter is just about to turn two, so I have a little more time to strategize optimal Lego spoiling.

In other words, "my kid's only 2, so I have a few years to figure out how to do this" rather than "my kid's only 2, is that too young for Legos?".

....I acutally made the same mistake too, though, so hey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on August 6, 2009

My brother and I played with legos - some of them are over 40 years old. Many moons ago, Bro. gave them to his kids to augment their new sets. No big deal, just added the box to the new stuff whenever the first kit showed up. The (now) 25 year-old has the legos in a huge wooden chest waiting for when the next generation show up.

I asked about them when we were moving the big box to the newest abode. Second generation said: "They're all good, you made the sets out of the new ones, then they all go together into the box and then you make whatever you want."

Pretty much sums it up. Back in the day, we didn't have the big ones that were safe for toddlers, we got them whenever we were old enough. No kits either - so we just made things out of them. The big flats were a hit when they came out. Plus the skinny singles were hard to come by. It was frustrating sometimes to be towards the end of a creation and run out of a certain piece you needed, but you could always come up with a creative solution - or, just leave it off. Legos are the greatest. I must admit, we still enjoyed building w/ them when we were teens. Horrors! How nerdy we were. Course, my Brother is in engineering and I'm in architecture now.
posted by mightshould at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2009

Holy shit. If there's anything that would be the kiddie equivalent of a pirate treasure chest, it's a few boxes of lego.

I suggest you bury the boxes (well sealed) in your garden (or somewhere trustworthy) right now, and deep. That way, in five years, the area will be all overgrown. Then you have some time to come up with some awesome clues. Enlist the help of an old relative to speak wistfully of tales of a hidden hoard of lego he heard about when he was a child, but never found. Allow weeks to go by until a clue is suddenly chanced upon. Take your time. Make it so genuine research has to be done to follow the clues, talking to different people, visiting different locations. Don't be put off by frustration and heartache. It is all part of the adventure. Eventually the kid has to visit the library to solve a clue, and lo and behold, an ancient map hidden in a book! Then get her to personally dig the thing up, and I guarantee, she'll appreciate it then. Most of all, never reveal that you were behind it all. She will suspect of course, but she'll only be grateful later on.

It might also be amusing if they get a friend to help, since once they find it, they will probably end up killing each other in order to possess the whole lot, just like in the movies! This will help convey a valuable lesson about money and friendship.
posted by leibniz at 1:59 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

My son, nine, who is not that social (Aspie) has a huge bin of legos at the end of his bed. At night I'll go down to his room to turn off his light and he'll be assembling something. Recently he was having tantrums over having to go on family outings and was pretty stressed out. When he calmed down he brought up three lego space ships he had made to show me.
posted by mecran01 at 10:14 PM on August 10, 2009

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