A couple of months ago our house was a mess. I began to get on top of things by doing only a few things a day, but doing them well. This approach made sense to me as it is what we’ve always expected from our children. It’s done wonders not only for the state of the house, but also for my sense of wellbeing. Yay.
Prior to the big re-organise, one of the things I was hearing regularly was…”Muuuuum, I need your eyes to find two red flat” or something similar. By regularly, I mean once or twice an hour at least, more often if a decent Lego project was on the go (it often was). I believe that well-nurtured, well-connected children do well with a good dose of being ignored each day. (I will blog about this in detail at a later time.) Constantly needing Mum’s good eyes to find small pieces of Lego in a large box was not my idea of ignoring and the older boys were frustrated…they were always losing their train of thought. They had to stop being in the zone, consciously think, “I need Mum’s help” and then come and find me.
As I was de-cluttering anyway I decided to organise all the Lego into colours. This is something I never imagined I would do. This is something I thought was the realm of bored housewives and perfectionists. I was keen to do it all the same, call me mad – Craig certainly did. LOL
One of the local stores, which is always having a sale, had a sale on different sized storage boxes…shoe-box type covered in fabric. Off I went and got a pile of them. Came home, tipped both big boxes of Lego on the floor and began to sort. Within an hour or so it was done. The Owl and the Hare were ecstatic: they could find what they wanted with relative ease. I was also pretty happy about the situation because they got to stay in their zone state while they were creating.
That was about six weeks ago. And a remarkable thing has happened. The boys’ level of creativity has increased. This is particularly evident with the Owl who was very good at asking the Hare to complete things for him. He is concentrating longer in order to make his creations. (Not that he had concentration issues before.) He is able to stay fully on task for longer because he doesn’t have to spend so long searching for pieces and he is less likely to call me to help. Indeed, I think he’s asked me to use my Mummy’s eyes less than five times in the whole six-week period. I think of it like this: he’s able to think at a deeper/more intense level.
Like muscles, brains need to be stretched a little in order to develop to a greater density. (A bit like an entangled jungle – the thicker and more prevalent the ‘vines’ linking up the brain, the healthier and more creative the person.) The longer someone can stay deeply focussed on a task, the more connections made, for each new connection the brain has to ‘stretch’ a little, every time there is a little stretch there is either a new ‘vine’ created or an old one is strengthened/thickened.
The great thing about Lego, and other toys which can be used in many ways, is there is no right answer. (Unlike ‘educational’ toys!) In very simplistic terms, the children’s brains are free to create or strengthen many, many connecting ‘vines’, when they use open-ended toys. It’s a cycle, which can only end with people who are both highly self-motivated and great at problem-solving. And never bored.
1. The children are free to assemble the blocks in any way they chose.
2. They can access the pieces they want more easily, now things are organised, so they are able to stay engaged for longer.
3. They stay engaged for increasing periods of time because the longer they stay creating, the greater the amount of yummy motivation and happiness chemicals released – our brains like this kind of activity and ‘reward’ us for engaging in it. It feels good, so kids want to keep doing it.
4. The longer the engagement the more likely the children use more blocks, develop greater complexity in their constructions and are then truly proud of their outcomes.
5. One of us, or all of us, re-organise the blocks every couple of days. Return to Number 1.
Do I end up doing most of the tidying-up? Certainly. Am I bothered ? No. I can tidy-up in less than five minutes every couple of days, which is far less time than what I was spending being interrupted all the time to use my Mummy’s eyes. Also, our kids are great at doing their chores etc – it’s not like they don’t get other chances to tidy-up. Sometimes they help with the Lego, sometimes they don’t.
So there you have it. Blow me down. Not only is our house (generally) more organised and tidy,which we’re all loving, the kids are getting to stretch their grey-matter more.
Other toys which are open-ended…
shells, wooden blocks, expressionless dolls (Waldorf ones); pieces of fabric; stones; sand-pits; water-troughs; large pieces of wood with hammer and nails; old animal bones; old clothes belonging to parents; pillows; blankets…anything which can be used in more than one way and relies on the child’s imagination to fill in the gaps.
The more information the toy provides the less imaginative/creative/problem-solving work the child has to do.
And now I can also confidently say, the more easily the components are to access…the more likely they can stay on task.
(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )