What next after Lego?

Lego – known by everyone and for many of us, full of happy memories.

However, we are often asked by our customers, what comes next?

How do you take the amazing skills that they have developed and capitalise on these? They have read complex instructions, put together intricate details and been really proud of what they have done, but we want them to try something different.

Whirligig Toys - I Made This Fishing Kitty

Since we were young, Lego has continued to innovate and have developed many complex projects for older children. In fact, the great thing about the bricks is that you can dip in and out of it over a long period of time.

What we’ve been looking at recently, is what you can do alongside this so give a variety of experiences, textures to work with and different outcomes. Here are some suggestions that we have discovered for children of all ages who are ready for a bit of a change!

Try a different material

Following instructions and sequences of pictures to put together a model is a great start. However, wood, metal, paper, fabric all bring different challenges. You may have to wait whilst the glue dries, measure and make folds in the material that are non-standard and require accuracy or find a way of manoevering pieces so that they work in a particular sequence.

We love wooden kits and the Timberkits range is a great example of this. The drummer has pre-engineered pieces, but requires glue and time to ensure that the parts move in sequence and give the end result. Also, if you are not careful, wood can snap or require sandpaper – all new experiences.

Try a different operation

Key to model making is one component interacting with another to make a movement or reaction. This means that the sequence is all important, and then working backwards to identify where a potential mistake has been made. One wrong move, and your model may not work – this risk is a great skill to learn, as is repairing a mistake and finding a different way to solve the problem when you have gone wrong.

We think these music boxes are a great example of this. Again, working in wood, you will need to connect the pieces to push and pull others and ensure that the are positioned accurately. The laser cut pieces mean that much of the precision is done for you, but get them in the wrong order and everything might jam up! Laser cutting also usually means that you can pull apart and rescue – also fascinating!

Try creating your own pieces

Moving on from laser cut pieces and pre-engineered shapes means that if the piece don’t fit, you have made it wrong!

Origami and sewing are great examples of this type of construction – you need to fold in the right place, cut the line accurately, join two or more pieces together to make a new shape.

We think this origami kit works well as a starter – the pieces are easy to put together and the instructions are very clear, but the maker is in charge of creating components based on the instructions. A really different challenge.

Try something with an open ended outcome

Many construction kits have a particular end product that you will create – children love this as they know when they have finished and what success looks like – no problem with that! However, what if you could continue to create with the model you have made rather than leaving it on the shelf to admire?

This music machine does exactly that. A simple construction and a book of tunes allow you to create well known tunes that you can play. But, the machine has many other tunes to offer – you have to compose them yourself based on tunes you already know or ones you want to write… There are endless opportunities for trial and error, correction and change. And what comes next???

Try something that requires a code

Once built, creating a sequence of instructions and tasks for a machine to do takes you into the realms of coding and programming. Not only do you have to build the project, but now you have to make it do something. Many of these projects use a tablet or computer interface, but this is not essential!

This coding robot will throw a ball, write and draw, pick things up and move them around. It requires the placement of pegs in a circle to achieve the desired outcome and if you get it right, you can perform all sorts of tasks. A task that requires precision as well as creative thinking.

Whirligig Toys - Coding Robot

Try something that involves risk

The beauty of the brick is that it will give you a great start and take you through to new challenges. However, when something goes wrong, you can often identify the problem. But, if you are going to get one chance to make it right or the whole thing is ruined, you have to think about things a little more carefully along the way!

This rollercoaster marble run will give you just that challenge. Whilst the pieces are mainly laser cut and simple to use, you have to commit to cutting and gluing certain pieces in order to build up the infrastructure before the final piece go on. You can work back and correct, but it will require a great deal of patience and skill. Here, getting it right as you go along becomore more important, but also motivating as you really want the machine to work!

Try something with limited instructions

Taking an idea and making it come to life is at the heart of building and construction. We need to be able to make our own sense of a model and identify a new way of using it to invent something new, and children love these types of challenge!

This kit gives you four possible machines to build and lots of ideas. Once you have the concept, it is your job to source the materials to make the automata work, give it some humour, to finalise the design and make it your own. The instructions are really helpful, but without your take on them, the model is nothing – you will need to create the last part of the instruction yourself to really bring it to life.

Try to experiment across different mediums

Many of these projects are made from wood, a great material, but not the only one available. What if metal was used alongside, how can you bring in other materials or equipment. Once you have the basic understanding of the model process, how can you solve problem and incorporate you own ideas?

Well, this takes us back to our childhood, starting with junk modeling, making mess with glue and finding unusual, and something unsuccessful, outcomes. These new kits from Djeco, available in September, seem to incorporate many different components and we think that they look great fun.

So, a whole world of different opportunities that take children to and from the bricks and into different situations.

We love anything that gives them a challenge, and hope that this has given you a few ideas that may give them a more varied birthday list!

Here are our top tips:

  • Get started whenever you are ready – Lego is a great toy and has many different levels to enter and exit from, but construction itself is always a great challenge for children
  • Try different materials and get them thinking about 3D structures that are not just square
  • Find ways of saying, ‘what else could you do?’ or ‘what would happen if you?’ – children love to see other possibilities
  • Let them see you having a go at building or making and let them join in
  • Save scraps of whatever you are making – they are the starting points for all sorts of projects

We hope you have fun – let us see what you end up making, we always love to see!

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