Opening gifts on my birthday, I cautiously shook a wrapped package and it rattled.
“I bet it’s Lego,” I joked.
My wife and our three-year-old daughter know I don’t do Lego. It’s something that they do together. I’ve always thought I don’t have spatial intelligence to be good at building. I didn’t have Lego or other toy bricks when I was a child, and I don’t remember even doing puzzles. I’ve always preferred reading or using dolls to tell stories.
So imagine my surprise when I opened the present and found that it was, indeed, Lego.
“Look! It’s the Yellow Submarine,” my wife and daughter excitedly told me. They know that I love the Beatles album and film, and so they thought this might be the perfect gateway project, the set that would get me engaged with building.
But despite liking the look of the Lego submarine and Beatles, I couldn’t picture myself sitting down to put it together. Just thought of the 550+ pieces in the box exhausted me.
My wife then reminded me of some research we had learned about. People assume males are better than females at spatial activities, starting with Lego or Lincoln Logs in childhood and leading to careers such as architecture or engineering. But in reality, it’s just that boys are given much more practice playing with puzzles and bricks, which helps them improve and gain confidence. The supposed prowess with fine-motor and spatial skills is largely culturally created.
This is pretty obvious when you think about it, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook how much society impacts child-rearing and education.
My wife and I had vowed to ensure that our daughter had plenty of opportunities to experience a range of activities and interests, including building-related ones. We’re very aware that skills can be learned and developed. Stating, as I had always done, “I’m just not good at that,” is unhelpful and untrue. Instead, we want to show our daughter that you can try anything, and that practice is what helps you become capable or even talented.
With all this in mind, and reminding myself that I was a model to my daughter, I sat down with my Lego set.
To my shock, I liked it.
I liked seeing how the bricks fit together learning how to carefully guide them into the right position. I liked watching my submarine take shape. I liked the sense of achievement I got with each part of the task I completed. I also liked that I was focused on the job at hand, and didn’t even consider my work-related stress while I was building.
I liked how sometimes my daughter sat next to me, working on some Lego of her own and sometimes helping me with my kit, counting out the pieces I needed or pushing them into place for me (and, well, sometimes running off with them or knocking them under the sofa).
It was hard not to laugh when I heard myself saying to her, “I think we have some time before dinner. Should we go work on our Lego?”
I was touched when she said, “You’re doing a good job with your Lego, Mama! Well done!” It was clear that she’d understood this was a challenge for me, and she was encouraging me to continue.
Yes, I still prefer reading, but I’ve learned a lot from my Lego gift. I’ve gotten over my sense that there are some skills I just don’t have and never will have, and I hope my daughter has seen that and will learn from it. With patience and effort, we can attempt to master just about anything.
Now I’ve already completed a second Lego set, and my wife and daughter are eager for me to start on a third. I’m looking forward to it!