Little Brick Schoolhouse

LEGO® INFO

The best toys are those that can be played with in more than one way, and LEGO® blocks fulfill that requirement. For educational purposes, LEGO® elements be used in all grade levels, from preschool to high school. LEGO® toys encourage children to use their imaginations, to understand spatial concepts, to learn cause-and-effect, to develop hand-eye coordination, to improve manual dexterity, to reinforce problem-solving skills, to work independently or as a team, to feel a sense of accomplishment, and best of all to have fun!

Free Play vs. Theme Sets

Free-play building sets (aka LEGO® Creator or Basic Bulk Building Set) contain assorted shapes, sizes and colors of interlocking plastic blocks. Additional elements such as windows, doors, people, etc. may also be included. These basic sets allow for true open-ended play and are popular with young children, both boys and girls. Beginners can get lots of practice learning how to build with the blocks. Since LEGO® blocks interlock, there are fewer accidental demolitions. Even so, it’s the same type of free-style building that LEGO® master builders do for fun in the back room.

Themed sets include detailed instructions and all of the parts needed for building a particular design. There are a wide range of themes to choose from – everything from city vehicles to elaborate diorama-quality scenes. Many of these sets seem more suited for boys, but they do have special sets for girls. And either gender would probably enjoy playing with a castle, house, or any other set for that matter.

Themed sets usually contain many small parts and specialty pieces. These are more popular with older children. Although your creativity is somewhat limited since you are following ready-made directions to build a specific design, themed sets often contain added instructions for building alternate designs. In addition, my kids often mix and match various parts from different themed sets to make something completely different.

Bulk Bricks & Extra Parts

If you’re building something big, you may need lots of bricks in one particular size or color. LEGO® sells bulk bricks in bags of 50 (hardly what I would call “bulk”) and they are high-priced for what you get. The best places to get bulk bricks are at www.eBay.com or www.BrickLink.com, where you can often find someone selling hundreds or even thousands of bulk bricks at only pennies per brick.

In addition to the basic bricks, LEGO® makes many different parts and accessories (all in mini-scale, of course); e.g., doors, windows, animals, trees, flowers, people, hats, hair, beards, tools, weapons, baseplates, road plates, fences, signs, sloped bricks, gears, axles, wheels and tires. You can purchase some of these through the LEGO® catalog or online at the LEGO® shop. However, I prefer the unlimited variety to be found at www.BrickLink.com. There you can get individual pieces from both current and discontinued sets to replace a missing part or add to your collection.

Instructions

Most LEGO® instructions are full-color step-by-step illustrations, so your child does not have to be able to read in order to build. To move on to the next stage you simply must identify the pieces that were added to the new picture since the last one, and add the corresponding pieces to your own model. Smaller sets have easy one-page instructions, while the larger sets have more complicated instructions. The 1981-piece Town Plan came with a 74-page instruction booklet! There may also be stickers that you need to put on. If you end up with a few pieces left over when you’re done, don’t worry – they sometimes put extra pieces in the box. On some LEGO® fan sites you can find custom instructions for original creations that other LEGO® maniacs have designed, which you can copy and build using your own bricks that you have on hand.

New vs. Used

LEGO® sets can be quite pricey considering they’re just little bits of colored plastic, although it’s somewhat more understandable when it’s a hard-to-find limited edition item like the Dwarves’ Mine. In general, the advanced sets will be more expensive than the basic buckets of blocks because they contain more specially-shaped pieces.

You can find all kinds of reasonably-priced used LEGO® sets at eBay and www.BrickLink.com (our favorite LEGO® source). Some even come in the original boxes. Otherwise, they will be neatly packed in plastic zip bags, with or without instructions. You can find some instructions on sale separately at BrickLink, but in most cases it’s worth the extra challenge to just put it together on your own.

LEGO® bricks are virtually indestructible. LEGO® bricks are molded of a hard, durable plastic and built to last. As a result, I’ve never noticed much difference between new bricks and the used ones that we buy. They’re usually just as shiny, sometimes just a little dusty. But since they’re made of plastic, even if you do get a dirty batch they should be easy to clean up with soap and water.

If you’re lucky and keep your eyes open, you may occasionally spot LEGO® toys at garage sales, yard sales, rummage sales, thrift stores, or secondhand shops. But it seems like they are as valuable as gold, high in demand and hard to find!

Other Brands

MegaBloks cost less than LEGO®, and Best-Lock bricks retail for about half as much as the leading brand. K’NEX Bricks™ are relatively new on the market. All of these are fairly compatible, but I wouldn’t say they’re perfectly compatible. MegaBloks are made of plain styrene plastic which isn’t as brightly colored or durable as the LEGO® ABS plastic. MegaBloks tend to crack at the corners, although in general their quality has greatly improved over the years. K’NEX Bricks™ have rounded edges and corners. This means that even though they fit together, they won’t smoothly match up with the sharp-cornered, straight-edged LEGO® bricks when stacked on top of each other. Best-Lock bricks are made of a lesser-quality plastic and aren’t exactly the same size as LEGO® bricks, which can be a problem if trying to use both types together.

Building Bricks for All Ages

LEGO® blocks come in a variety of types and sizes suitable for children under three years of age to adults. Standard LEGO® bricks are great for children three years of age and older. These are NOT appropriate for children under 3 years of age because of the small parts. There is a choke hazard!

DUPLO blocks are the toddler/preschool version of LEGO® bricks. These are larger and easier for little hands to manipulate; they interlock so are less likely to fall down and cause frustration; and they are safe for small children. DUPLO blocks are a good value, too, because they are fully compatible with LEGO® blocks. So when your child is ready to move on to the next level, you don’t have to pack away their DUPLO collection.

Mega Bloks come in different sizes, too. Some are the same size as regular LEGO® bricks. They also have a larger size like DUPLO. Mega Bloks even come in huge sizes for babies. This is something that LEGO® no longer offers, so MegaBlocks are filling a valuable market niche there. In general, I’ve noticed that lately LEGO® seems to be steering away from the classic bricks and turning more toward specialty sets.

Bionicle is a line of LEGO® toys that is geared towards boys in the 8-16-year-old age range. They are imaginative, but not as educational as other LEGO® toys. At least I haven’t figured out much that you can do with them. My son likes them anyway, but just keeps them on display. If I wanted something other than the regular building bricks for that age level, I’d rather get LEGO® Technic sets. LEGO® Technic is a series of heavy duty machines and vehicles that you can build, then rebuild into all new machines.

Mindstorms is a line of LEGO® sets combining programmable bricks with electric motors, sensors, LEGO® bricks, and LEGO® Technic pieces. There are many clubs and contests in which high school students can compete locally and nationally designing robots with the Mindstorms set. Engineering in the schools is highly emphasized these days, but I still prefer the artistic and architectural creativity that can be obtained from plain LEGO® building bricks.

The acronym AFOL refers to Adult Fans of LEGO® - typically artists, engineers, and hobbyists who build with or collect LEGO® pieces. Quite often these people played with LEGO® bricks as children, and as adults either continued or regained their interest in LEGO®.

There are others – like me! – who never played with LEGO® toys as children but like them now. Perhaps my boys’ enthusiasm finally rubbed off on me. I figure if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! (Actually, I didn’t even know LEGO® existed when I was a kid! I grew up near the Fisher-Price factory so that’s where most of my toys came from!)

Quality & Durability

LEGO® pieces are very durable and high quality. They are molded of high-pressure ABS plastic, the same material used in auto bodies. Even stepping on them doesn’t break them, as any parent who’s ever had the misfortune of stepping on one in bare feet can tell you! About the worst thing that can happen to a LEGO® piece is getting lost or sucked up in the vacuum cleaner, which unfortunately is a common problem since many of them are so small. Right-click on the image below, then "View Image," to read the LEGO® Product Quality & Safety notice.

Storing & Organizing

The free play sets come in plastic buckets or tubs that stack on top of each other. Most other sets come in thin cardboard boxes which aren’t suitable for long-term storage. However, there are lots of inexpensive plastic storage bins available in stores these days. Even baby wipe containers or clear plastic shoeboxes would work for smaller collections.

At first we tried dividing our LEGO® pieces into separate compartments organized by shape and color, since that’s what the master builders do. It didn’t work well for us, though. When the floor is completely covered with hundreds of LEGO® pieces, who feels like sorting them out before putting them away. It’s way too time-consuming! You just want to scoop them up and dump them into a box. Besides, the kids actually seem to enjoy pawing through a big bin of LEGO® pieces to find the one they’re looking for – kind of like going on a treasure hunt!

We did learn that a shallower, wider bin is better than a deep square box for finding the right pieces quickly. Our plastic underbed storage boxes have worked well for that. They have wheels for rolling in and out, and the lids even have two flip-up sections so you can open one side at a time. Whatever storage container you decide to get, just make sure the lid seals tightly so you won’t find it tipped on its side one day with all of the bricks spilled out!

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Notice & Disclaimer
The Little Brick Schoolhouse is not affiliated with The LEGO® Group of companies and LEGO® does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this site or its content. LEGO® is a registered trademark of the LEGO® Group of companies. This means that the word LEGO® is a brand name and should technically be used as an adjective (e.g., LEGO® bricks, LEGO® toys, LEGO® models, LEGO® sets, etc. – not “Legos” as is so common in everyday speech). In addition, LEGO® is actually written in uppercase letters. LEGO® fans, let's stand behind this special brand by not diluting their trademark. Visit the official LEGO® website: www.LEGO.com.