creating Lego instructions with a 5yr-old

Conversation with Samuel (5) during uncle-duty today:

S: We have so many Lego bricks but no building-instructions :(
Me: That’s true. Well, what do you think about making instructions ourselves based on those amazing vehicles you created there?
S: Mmh, how do you mean?
Me: You could use drawings and writing to explain every step of your building-process.
S: But I can’t write that well yet.
Me: I can write for you, no problem.
S: (thinks long…) Uncle Beni?
Me: Yes?
S: Can you please go and get some paper?

And the next hour we spent immersed in creating Lego-instructions for vehicles and creatures Samuel invented on the spot.
Quickly he understood the concept of drawing a graphical model from the three basic angles (front, side, top) step by step and labeling the parts precisely. It is important to think which perspective to choose and how many new pieces to add in one instruction step. We must think ahead how well we, or someone else, might comprehend these instructions when reversing the process at some point; building based on instructions instead of creating instructions based on a building.
We drew both and I wrote. I was so enjoying how he really got a handle on this abstract idea of representing something in a way it can be reproduced later. After we finished the first set of instructions (for a dragon… sort of) I told him that we could now deconstruct (=smash) the real model because we can reproduce infinitely many based on these instructions – he was clearly amazed at this point.

I love these moments of witnessing a new pattern fall into place in a child’s mind. It is so fulfilling to create and hold a space for that to happen…
I think if I ever become a dad I would not only document these situations thoroughly if they emerge but actually map out crucial cognitive patterns and strategically create learning spaces for them.
Well, I guess that is to some degree what pedagogy is there for isn’t it. Steiner, Montessori and others must have vividly imagined the spaces and tools for a young mind to develop and thrive…


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Benjamin Aaron Degenhart

Currently pursuing a Masters in Computational Science and Engineering at TU Munich.

4 thoughts on “creating Lego instructions with a 5yr-old”

  1. I agree, kids immediately grasp abstract concepts beyond what adults imagine is possible. Pretty much it’s just clumsy teaching skills that limit kids. They figured out generalizations of grammer when they learned to talk, didn’t they?

    The trick is that you’ll have to watch yourself teach, and outline the abstract petagogy in descriptions about how you did what you’re doing. So you need to get better at self-observation to complete that glimse you had about being able to convey an idea with an experiment or experience. Or film yourself doing it!

    Parenthood is over-rated, because you spend most of it dealing with the fact that you must be the authority and provider of limits rather than the fun, kindly uncle who shows the nephew a good time. It’s a better use of intent to “sponsor” your nephew’s ability to think for himself as often as you can do that.

    May I suggest ? It’s a thinking course designed for parents that you could use to play with your nephew. Poking around the site shows what you’ll be getting.


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