≡ Menu

Seriously learning how to play with LEGO

(Written by Sarah)

My confidence at building with LEGO is faltering, at best. I find it hard to just let go and play. My inner child has trouble coming out. But then I realize that even as a child, I was a follow-the-instructions kind of kid.

Sure, I had a variety of LEGO sets when I was young, but almost always, I would build per the instructions and play with it as the play-set. I only remember building a few things like a small moon glider and a pirate boat on wheels. Sadly, I never recovered those when I found my box.

This is probably the set I used to make the pirate boat on wheels as I have the instructions and shark, but no boat or pirates.

As an adult, I live in a very rigid set of rules. I’m supposed to do this, but not do that. It’s very hard to break out, but I really want to challenge myself. If I don’t start now, I’ll never get around to it. That’s the procrastinator in me.

So after a few years of being an Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL), I figure it’s high time for me to stop thinking of myself as a new AFOL and get serious about learning to build. Er, not too serious; after all, I’m supposed to be playing and having fun. So I need to get serious about playing. Yeah, that’s it. 😉

Not really having any ideas, I challenged myself to a free build. I had 12 different pieces in large quantities that we had gotten from a draft of the Outpost Attack.

Since I was so limited in the pieces, the pieces almost dictated what I built. Still, though, I tried some detailing that I’ve never seen before with the 3X3 facet bricks. While it turned out to be a crazy Castle Tower Gazebo, which I called Crazebo, I realized why no one had ever used the 3X3 facet bricks the way I did. The top of the structure was off half a stud. I couldn’t put a solid roof on.

But I learned a lot from that free build. I learned that it’s okay to be crazy with LEGO and try something new. It may not always work out, but that’s how you discover techniques. I learned the importance of stability, which the floor wasn’t but the walls were. I learned that round plates with axle holes in them can be fun to put on axles to create standing structures. Also, tiles don’t have to completely cover a row of studs, but can jut out to create different angles.

Having learned all that, I’ve taken it apart and will attempt another build using all those draft pieces plus pieces from two Blacksmith Attacks sets that we bought for parts.

I’m worried that it’ll be too much for me. That I’m jumping into the deep end before I can swim. But I’ve got to realize that the only way to fail with LEGO is to not try. Even if I build a mess, I’ll learn something and hopefully, have some fun while I’m doing it. Its tall order for a perfectionist procrastinator, but maybe, just maybe LEGO will help me free my inner child to play like she’s never played before.

Now that I’ve shared my story, I have a question for you! Do you have trouble freeing your inner child to play with LEGO? What helps you break through the rigid rules of adulthood?

Please post your responses in the comment section below. If you feel comfortable, I’d love to know what you’ve built as an adult that you are embarrassed about. I can’t be the only one who makes funky creations while trying to relearn how to build with LEGO. 😀

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • YTjedi June 17, 2011, 1:34 PM

    Break out of the follow-the-rules mindset is pretty hard. Back home I don’t know that I have any official set from my childhood assembled; they’re all just loose pieces. Now my collection is mostly licensed sets and I always keep them set up like the instructions dictate. I think part of the difference too was when I was little I would get sets for the pieces: This one has a cool sword or gun, this one has a cool animal, this one has new ship parts. Now I buy sets because the set itself I find cool. I have found recently though, as my budget has expanded slightly such that I can start buying sets for pieces again and not just collecting, that I want to build creatively like back when I was little. I’ve come to the decision that many of my old Star Wars sets that have since gotten updated versions would be perfect for breaking down and using for parts. I don’t think I’ll ever break down all my sets; it sometimes takes longer to take a set completely apart than it does to put it together. I’ve got to start somewhere though.

    • Sarah June 18, 2011, 11:26 PM

      Thanks so much for sharing! It’s great to know that I’m not alone in my challenges.

      Good luck on breaking down your Star Wars sets and building something of your own design. When you do, feel free to email or post a link.

      Some of those large sets take forever to take apart and are not as much as fun as putting it together in the first place. It’s almost a little sad when you take the brick separator to it. 🙁

  • DavidH June 22, 2011, 10:35 AM

    Nice article, Sarah. I have given myself some challenges with smaller sets to increase my building skills. Small Creator sets work especially great for this as you can build them in a few minutes.
    I build the set according to instructions, then I build the alternate models according to instructions. I do there several times, until I can build all three models from memory.
    Then I challenge myself to build something else from the same pieces.
    I found this to be a quite fun challenge, especially in the evening, after coming home from work.

    • Sarah June 28, 2011, 6:16 PM

      That’s a great idea! I’ll have to go get a few small creator sets and see what other builds I can make with them.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • LegoMom June 23, 2011, 10:41 AM

    I can totally relate! And I like the conscious effort you put into getting to know those bricks! 🙂

    • Sarah June 28, 2011, 6:17 PM

      Glad to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

      Its only by getting to know how pieces work that we’ll figure out what we can do with them. Especially knowing the limitations.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • brickhead June 23, 2011, 10:01 PM

    Actually, you have picked some of the hardest pieces to build with! Those castle walls!
    I have found that for free-building it is best to start with basic bricks, plates, etc. They are the most versatile and the easiest to work with to get the ideas flowing. Very specific pieces can get you stuck because now you are trying to figure out what to do with them!
    Once I’m starting to get the design, I may change the basic pieces out to more specific ones if they suit the MOC better.
    But it is also an interesting challenge to get some weird pieces and try to use them in different ways!
    There was a friendly building competition recently between 2 flickr members to come up with a new MOC every day using the same piece (it was the new arch piece for the POP sets). There were some really brilliant ideas! You can see the entries here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32482342@N05/5716056413/

    • Sarah June 28, 2011, 6:20 PM

      Yeah, I realized that I had picked hard pieces after I got into building with them. I tend to forget that while I like all the specialized Castle pieces, they’re not good for free-building with. Not for a beginner anyway.

      That’s a really cool challenge! And really stretches the imagination on how to use a piece. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tommy January 31, 2013, 11:43 PM

    I found the perfect Lego item to play with on my desk. It is candy legos they are called Candy Blox but the same thing. I bought some from here http://www.candyblox.com. People think I am just eating them but they are fun to play with while on the phone.

  • K August 2, 2013, 5:17 PM

    It is hard. As an engineer and some that has not “played” with toys for over 20 years I find it hard when staring to a blank baseplate… reading here it has made me feel better and thanks for this great site in which I can be in “contact” with someone that “understands” my passion for LEGO. =)

    • admin August 2, 2013, 5:39 PM

      You are welcome! And if you every have questions, or just need another LEGO fan to talk to, don’t hesitate to ask. 😉

      • K August 3, 2013, 1:14 AM

        Thanks. =_) Will do!

  • john March 15, 2014, 10:37 PM

    Thank you so much, this is EXACTLY what im looking for.
    I felt like a loser not knowing where to start with a bunch of bricks infront of me.
    Whats weird, is that I also have the 2 sets you mentioned!!!

  • David June 30, 2014, 1:52 AM

    I’ve recently been in that mindset as well, but I remember well doing some free-building as a kid. (I especially loved challenging myself with the Technic lines.) I’ve recently started playing with LEGOs again, and I’ve found that the follow-the-rule mindset can quite get in the way. I’ve started to break out of it by reducing the rules and instead, adhering to “techniques”. That way, I still have a guide, but I can let my creativity flow.

    Unfortunately, I only have one set right now, but limitations can actually be a strength for creativity! (LEGO Creator Set 6912: Plane, Helicopter, and Boat)

    • admin June 30, 2014, 12:51 PM

      David, nicely said. Thanks for sharing. I have actually heard from LEGO fans with huge collections finding it helpful to sometimes limit themselves by part-count, colors, or some other self-imposed boundaries. You can come up with some amazing things with limited resources. Like you said; limitations can become a strength for creativity. 🙂

  • Hanno April 21, 2015, 8:25 PM

    Thank you for this article, I have loved lego since I was a kid and there are a lot of pictures of me with my lego creations that are the results of free play ( buildings, cities, vehicles, all sorts). However I guess with age I lost it. and can definitely relate to the need for instructions and find that when I am ‘playing’ with lego with my 4 year old, all I am actually doing is sorting and coming across some interesting components and putting them aside for something, without actually creating anything.

    I do want to break away from that mentality.

    • admin April 23, 2015, 11:49 AM

      Hanno, thanks for sharing. One of the easiest ways to start to free-build with LEGO is to take current sets, or part of set and start modifying it. Like the car, but don’t exactly like the headlights? Change it? Like the house, but the inside can take some more decorating? Dot it? As you start modifying smaller sections like this, your own building skills will improve to the level where you can modify larger and larger chunks, until you are ready to build completely out of your own imagination. 🙂

Leave a Comment