Sample designs may be considered to serve several purposes:
- Marketing - show how the blocks (or figurative "blocks") might look in play, to encourage purchase - typically by someone who will not actually play with them, and may not even be around when they are in play.
- Demonstration - no matter how clever we might be, we can still miss some trick that provides for more variety, more entertainment, in constructing. Also helps those of us that need 'baby steps' to get back into something. Sometimes Marketing designs help demonstrate & vice versa, but often there is no overlap.
- Challenge - at some point, even knowing all the tricks, we might become bored; good challenges break us out of that and keep us playing, even steer us into new creative play.
- Ritual - this is often most important to me, since it provides a therapeutic benefit at critical times; it is almost the opposite of Challenge, in that it replaces anxiety with something perhaps akin to boredom, but ultimately satisfying.
- Learning - a large, but often subtle, benefit of a good set of instructions is in teaching the child - or refreshing the adult - how to follow instructions, how to proceed step-by-step to accomplish a goal. The process can be more important than the objective.
Confidence - The examples usually provide designs that we know can be built with the prescribed parts, whether harder or easier, learning or relaxation.
There can be exceptions, of course. Sometimes a building set will include plans that require additional sets - with or without a notation to that effect. Sometimes there are errors and a part or two beyond the prescribed set may be needed. Sometimes it is just a mystery.
A great example of the latter is the LINCOLN LOGS Building Manual, by Dylan Dawson. No parts lists. No correspondence of designs to currently available products. Great fun. The top image today is from & of this book.
There is also a companion TINKERTOY Building Manual.
One of the things that often amazes and worries me on Amazon.com is how often in user reviews, a reviewer will have bought the biggest, most advanced construction set of some kind for a youngster, "because you could build more/bigger things with it," then write a review complaining that the tot couldn't build the designs without help. They should have bought a smaller set for beginners, they come with simpler plans - for beginners. Then if it works out, move up to bigger challenges.
Starting with something too challenging, with an overwhelming complexity and number of parts, can turn a child off not just the toy in question, but can damage their self-confidence in much broader and more enduring ways.
Start small, move up. Make sure there are example plans for building confidence.
Have Good Block Play.
This post has been kicking around in draft form for several weeks, because it is something I wanted to refer to in other posts, but wasn't quite sure how to put together. I am probably not done modifying it, but I keep finding myself wanting to refer to it, so it is here. It will probably continue to be revised.
Addendum 12/5/09 - added "learning" bullet to the purposes, suggested by a comment from "Emmadad."