Thirty years ago, I was a ten-year old boy who spent a huge amount of time building Lego models, usually to be destroyed by my younger brother*. Today, my sons are playing with that same Lego, supplemented by a growing number of sets of their own (slowly taking over our house in spite of my efforts to contain it to the living room and their bedrooms).
Imitation sets are just not as good
There have been a few sets gifted from others that are not “real” Lego. It may sound ungrateful but these mostly have been passed on to charity shops as either:
- They had black and white instructions that were difficult to follow.
- They needed us to download and print the instructions ourselves (surprisingly expensive and impractical).
- They just didn’t fit together as well as real Lego (the models are too fragile).
Whether it’s Knex, MegaBlox or one of the plethora of wannabees, it seems that imitation Lego is really just a false economy.
Sourcing replacements for broken parts
One of the properties of Lego bricks is that they are incredibly strong. Anyone who’s every stood on one whilst walking bare-foot can tell you that! But, ever so occasionally, a practically indestructible Lego part gets broken and, faced with an inconsolable eight-year-old who wanted to use a 2×2 plate with ball connector that had snapped off (“it’s really rare and we’ve only got about 2 of them Dad”), I set about locating replacements (super glue had done a better job of sticking my fingers together than it did two pieces of Lego…).
There are various Lego parts databases online, as well as sites specialising in selling second-hand Lego parts (although parts availability can be patchy). I found the BrickSet Lego Brick Guide to be comprehensive, accurate and easy to work with (it ought to be – I’ve just noticed it’s an official Lego site!) and I searched for the part I needed, using a set number that I knew it appeared in.
Lego’s parts replacement service is not available in all countries and I couldn’t find it via the UK website but a friend who used to work at Lego said they often sent out parts to replace broken/missing pieces. So, after locating the exact part, I went to Lego’s replacement parts system and requested a new piece.
This is where Lego excelled. Not only did they replace that part but I also asked for replacements for some others that had become broken over the years and Lego shipped them, free of charge. I would have paid for them, if I could find them but Lego’s customer service is so good and their confidence in the quality of the product so strong that they will replace the broken pieces.
The real value of Lego
I can’t think of any other toy that’s provided as much play value as Lego and it was interesting to read an article about how Lego’s price has changed over the years (it’s not as expensive as it first seems). Then, last weekend, my sons spent their pocket money on some more. My 6 year-old plumped for some Lego Star Wars sets (no surprises there) but my 8 year-old bought a battery pack, motor, lights, switch and gears.
Over the next few days, he built a vehicle that drives itself, worked out how best to arrange the gears and motor, how to make it stronger, how to tweak the electrics so that the lights came on separately to the motor. Each iterative change brought improvements, and taught him a little more about making things work. In short, Lego taught him about physics, engineering, electronics (arguably innovation too…) – all with very little input from me. Whilst my wife is looking for ways to feed his interest (and apparent aptitude) for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I think we might get quite a long way just by buying lots of Lego Technics and Mindstorms!
* On one notable occasion I “left home”, aged 7, walking out after my brother broke up a Lego model I’d created… I came home a few hours later in a panda car…