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How LEGO Kits Help Us Learn About the World (Even When We Can’t Travel)

By Ann Shields

Mar 13, 2020

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Assembly required. Imaginations inspired.

Courtesy of LEGO

Assembly required. Imaginations inspired.

Rainy days—and periods of social-distancing or quarantine—mean a chance to introduce your kids to a world of travel and architecture. And plastic bricks.

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Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

For the childless grown-up, a cold and rainy weekend morning can seem like a wondrous gift: Stay in bed! Spend hours on a new complicated recipe! Read the newspaper cover to cover or crack that new novel! But when you’re a parent of young children, a day inside means finding activities—and lots of them—to fill the foot-dragging hours until bedtime. Those dreary days, though, led my family to discover the joys of assembling LEGO sets and once we arrived in LEGO land (no, not that one), we found days stuck at home weren’t bad at all.

Armchair Indophiles, This Is Your 5,923-Piece Lego Taj Mahal

In addition to killing sweet, sweet time, building LEGO kit projects provided our kids with life lessons that went from basic ones when they were little (the names of colors and geometric shapes) to more complex (following schematic instructions, working as a team, exercising patience with a spatially challenged yet invariably bossy mother). Another delightful benefit to playing LEGO: As they got old enough to do the more challenging kits, the kids began to appreciate good architecture and become interested in—even insistent upon—actually visiting the buildings and cityscapes we were building (and, frankly, to plan visits to LEGO stores everywhere they found them).

My hometown favorites. (Hey, LEGO, where is the Chrysler Building kit?)

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We can see the Empire State Building from our living room, so that was an easy and affordable first LEGO-inspired trip. (We hung a red sweater from the window so they could spot our apartment from the observation deck.) 

Buy Now: Empire State Building, $130, LEGO.com

Our next destination with a LEGO component, San Francisco, meant Santa brought the skyline kit (including the Golden Gate Bridge and little model Alcatraz) the previous Christmas. 

Buy Now: San Francisco Skyline, $40, amazon.com

Then the Chicago skyline with the Willis Tower and the Hancock Center was erected on the carpet next to the holiday tree before a spring break trip to Chicago. (I love that toddlin’ town but, for the love of God, don’t plan a visit with kids in early April.) 

Buy Now: Chicago Skyline, $80, amazon.com

And right before we headed to London to visit the cousins, the kids opted not to do the cool London skyline or challenging Big Ben kits, but rather two Harry Potter–themed ones: the Knight Bus and the Great Hall at Hogwarts. 

Buy Now: London Skyline, $40, LEGO.com; Big Ben, $75, amazon.com; The Knight Bus, $40, LEGO.com; Hogwarts Great Hall, $100, LEGO.com

Put together a little travel inspiration between trips.

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Some words of caution: The Danes are not here to flatter your little genius. When LEGO says a kit is appropriate for ages 14+, they mean it. (A lot of the projects above are pretty advanced—we found those marked 14+ could be tackled by a 12-year-old with an adult.) My kids often wanted to try LEGO kits beyond their skill levels just because the design was cool. Several times, we unpacked a kit and started building with good attitudes, then when increasingly noisy frustration threatened to ruin a day, we repacked the blocks and instructions in the box and hid it away until a rainy morning a couple of years in the future. So have a backup plan. (And believe me, finding those forgotten kits in the back of the closet while desperately searching for something to stave off nattering cabin fever is a thrill like few others experienced in parenting.)

We don’t buy the kids LEGO kits anymore, now that they’re in college and want gifts like actual airplane tickets. But reminiscing about those fun afternoons with the kids got me browsing the LEGO construction kits around now, like the skylines of Paris or Tokyo (those cherry blossoms!), and even checking the discontinued kits, like Tokyo’s elegant Imperial Hotel. Seeing these seriously piques my love of travel. If it rains this weekend, maybe I’ll pick up a new set and visit an architectural icon on my kitchen table. 

Buy Now: Paris Skyline, $50, LEGO.com; Tokyo Skyline, $60, LEGO.com; Imperial Hotel, $170, amazon.com

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