BRICK BY BRICK
Lego Beyond A Childhood Toy
“Leg godt” or “Play Well” was the ideology Ole Kirk Christiansen used to build his toy company in 1932. This Danish phrase inspired the name for what is now the third-largest toy manufacturer. The most prominent product the company produces is one that is a norm for generations growing up — the Lego brick. However, the unlimited building possibilities of the Lego brick were introduced in 1958, over 25 years after the company’s inception. Now with the release of Lego: The Movie, the revival of Lego has been introduced among adults.The use of Lego ranges from being an architectural tool to therapeutic use for children with disorders.
THE BLOCK BUSTER
Little plastic building blocks in primary colours; that was as far as Lego got for the childhood of many. With the box office success of Lego: The Movie, raking in $31.5 million in its third running weekend,the success and evolution of the once simple blocks was evident to many. The movie was a crowd-pleaser,not only for the young teens who went and the parents who took them, but for many major critics out there. Entertainment Weekly raved that it was“a helter-skelter kiddie adventure built out of plastic toy components, but it’s fast and original, it’s conceptually audacious, it’s visually astonishing, and it’s 10 times more clever and smart and funny than it needed to be.”
But as Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post noted, “The LEGO Movie pokes fun at anyone who would argue that LEGO products are, as one character puts it, ‘a highly sophisticated, interlocking brick system,’ and not simply toys.” It is clear that the movie has introduced a change in perception for the bricks, but many take it a step further and resurrect new interest for the cherished childhood game through the diverse range of uses for the product outside of the bricks being the “simple toys” that they’ve always been known as.
A TOY THAT CLIQUES
Vancouver Lego Club is a growing community for Lego enthusiasts and home to people that are still children at heart. Since its beginnings in 2001, the organization houses members from a multitude of culturally diverse backgrounds and is not predominant in one gender, but the one common feature among them is that they are mostly adults with stable incomes and committed, long-term relationships. “There’s a good majority of adults there not with children,”reveals Pierre Chum, spokesperson of the Vancouver Lego Club. “Some had given Lego up as kids and came back to use it either as an architectural product, a creative game or just for the fun of building. At the Vancouver Lego Club they have a place where they can pick it up and go, you know, there’s still life in these blocks.”
Spaces like the Vancouver Lego Club act as a place that can provide a rekindling experience for many, but for engineer Jonathan Tippett, putting down his Lego set was never a problem. The hands-on feeling that the plastic pieces gave him started his desire to build and led him into pursuing a career in building robots. “The first thing you gotta do is get off your couch and play with real objects like Legos,” Tippet emphasizes in describing how to foster a successful start to engineering through childhood.
With Lego Travel showcased at Science World, the latest store opening at Guildford Town Centre and events at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the toy seems to be at reach in bringing back the experience for adults.
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR BUILDING BLOCKS
The prominent reds, yellows, blues and greens can gravitate even the eldest from a crowd, but for children with autism and other neurobehavioral disorders, the pieces of plastic are especially engaging and even create a gateway to better behaviour in sharing and making friends. In St. Albert, Edmonton, twin brothers Tyler and Tyson Burns joined the Lego-Social Skills, one of the first Lego therapy programs in Canada, to alleviate their struggles with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.“It naturally re-enforces social behaviour. Because they have this affinity for Lego, because they love playing with it, they have to cooperate, they have to work with one another in order to build something and accomplish something,” Dyan Eygergen, a nurse at the Lego-Social Skills Group, explained in an interview with Global BC.
The first of the findings in Lego therapy was by psychologist Dr. Daniel LeGoff, who worked with and under the supervision of an international team at Cambridge University. Although the research was narrowed to autistic children and Lego as a skill-building setting, the therapy has been used for children with ADHD or, as in Tyler and Tyson’s case, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. However, as with the introduction of new programs and research, many school systems and mental health facilities are hesitant to use Lego therapy because the bricks are too expensive, or due to disagreements around it being too atheoretical.
CONNECTING WITH LEGO
Growing up, Chum was an avid Lego builder and a creative enthusiast, but never thought of one day using it to connect to the next generation. “I only had a few sets but it was cherished but subsequently, I put it away,” he admits.“When my nephew was born, we brought it back out and he started building some really cool stuff.” The choice in products didn’t fit just the sole interest of tikes, but it was something that Chum could engage in with his nephew. “I wanted to find sets that were of interest to both of us,” he laughs. “It was really about finding stuff for him, but for me as well.” Fast forward a few years later and Chum becomes uncle to a new niece. “She’s maintained the interest a lot longer than he has,” he says, giving the chance to flourish a bond that could only be recreated in a shared childhood.
At the age of five, Chum’s niece was diagnosed with cancer and was in the Make A Wish program where Chum had the ability to connect with the Vancouver Lego Club. “When we actually started working with [the] Make A Wish program, it was an interesting way to give back to raise money by using the talent and skills of the club in a simple way to say thank you,” he reveals. Since then, Chum has been taking the same joy of Lego he gives to adultsthrough the organization and recreating it with terminally ill children who may have forgotten their sense of wonder and youth.
The Vancouver Lego Club’s newest partnership with the Ronald McDonald House ensures that children at the B.C. Children’s Hospital don’t miss out on the experience. “You just want to build an environment that’s comfortable,” Chum emphasizes. “Just to be able to provide these kids with more Lego than they could have ever possibly had at home and by actually building a Lego room, instead of just a room with just some Lego in it — it’s going to be quite exciting.”
The spectrum of uses and connections Chum has found on a personal level is a remarkable showcase of the plethora of uses that Lego can have. “I think, for us, it’s showing people that Lego is still fun and relevant. Whether it’s woodwork or crafts or engineering, they most likely had the same roots and they most likely had it in Lego. It’s connecting to the community.”