Friday, December 04, 2009

Why sample designs?

Building from an existing design and building freestyle are not necessarily the same activities. "Creative play" seems to get all the good press, so it seems only fair to say something more here about building from example designs other than "I like it."

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.

Perhaps all of these fall under an overall heading of 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 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."


Herman said...

Interesting post. I thought the comments about confidence building and starting slow were good points

Cathy said...

After searching the web several times for ideas for playing with blocks, I came across your blog for the fourth time! Every time I find it, I really enjoy reading everything you have written. So I have finally decided that I better subscribe so I don't miss anything!

I have to say that I never played with blocks much as a child. So when I had kids of my own, I wanted to introduce block play to them--but building with them was foreign to me. Your blog has given me lots of ideas for new ways to bring blocks into our days.

I too also like building with sample designs. I find it very relaxing and fun. Maybe it is because I didn't do the open ended creative play as a child? I don't know. But one of the reasons I love your blog so much is because of all of the sample designs you show. It gives me some great ideas.

Your fan,

Alan said...

Thank you, Cathy, not just for the kind words, but the nudge towards a new post. Christmas is so overwhelming that I lose continuity.

The new post has some new sample plans too - and ones that can be built with many wooden block sets with little trouble.