Tag Archives: building

Building ideas

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-nine

Arthur is seriously into lego at the moment, and it is so awesome to watch him play.

He had been going through a bit of an in between phase with it all – his duplo was starting to feel a bit big and clumsy, but he didn’t quite have the fine motor skills to get to grips with the smaller lego bricks. He’d been bought a couple of kits as gifts, and loved the idea of the superhero worlds and vehicles he saw on the boxes. He couldn’t make them himself, but he watched enthusiastically whilst we did, and loved playing with the finished product.

I couldn’t help wonder what the point was though: lego was for creating, surely? Not just playing with things someone else had built…

And then suddenly things began to change.

It was sparked off as these things often are by a bit of a reorganisation of his toys. The drawers in his bedroom were full of things he’d grown bored of, so we decided to move the duplo up there. We grouped the bricks by colour, and suddenly they were much more inviting to play with.

The idea was that this might be a way to keep Arthur entertained in the mornings: he has a gro clock, which is set to the rather ambitious time of 7.30am to give me a chance to ease myself into the day. He’s generally pretty good at waiting till then to come and find me, but he’s often up a long time before, pottering and playing in his room. And his environment there really needed some enriching: we didn’t want to risk unsupervised play with the tiny grown-up lego pieces, particularly as Arthur often separates stubbornly tight ones with his teeth, but we thought this might just be a way to give the duplo a new lease of life.

And it’s really worked!


As soon as he’s awake in the mornings Arthur turns on the light and goes to explore the drawers, sitting happily on his rug for an hour or more creating worlds to entertain himself. When the sun comes up on the gro clock he’s quick to come and find me, but when I peer into his room later in the morning the evidence of his play is clear to see.


Last Sunday Leigh and I both went in to see what he’d been up to after breakfast, and Arthur delighted in talking us through his creations, from double-ended fire engines to a ‘sort of Snapping Banshank’, a curious creature that frequently reappears in his stories and drawings.


The early-morning exploration has given him confidence to experiment more with the smaller lego, too. That is stored in a very handy playmat that doubles up as a bag, so can move easily around the house depending on where he wants to play.


He’ll sit in the lounge whilst I’m preparing meals, or in my study whilst I write, and create robots and machines and lasers with the tiny pieces held carefully between determined fingertips.


He is loving the freedom to create exactly what he wants with his bricks, big and small. He often comes back to weapons – guns and blasters, mainly. Leigh and I were nervous when this world of violence first entered his play. We’d done nothing to encourage it, and had actively avoided stories and films with that kind of imagery. Well, until Star Wars at least…

By that time to be fair he had already begun to fashion guns from sticks or even just his fingers, and in the spirit of respect and freedom we are trying to nurture through unschooling we held back our judgement and held our tongues. My research reassured me that not only was this desire to explore the world of violence through play entirely natural, it is arguably essential for his developing brain.


And anyway, it might be that I was loading the guns he created with too much socially constructed significance anyway.

We’ve talked about why they make me feel uncomfortable, about the hurt and damage that they can cause, but that seems a bit irrelevant in the face of Arthur’s pride and delight at the creation of his colourful machines.


Especially because they might not be what they seem at all.

He built a gun the other day, a complicated construction which to me looked a bit like a dragon.


When I asked him about it he said:

“This is my idea gun. I actually made it out of ideas. It’s a gun that shoots ideas out, so you can make something.”

And I’m not going to argue with that.


Creative construction

The unschooling diaries: week seven

The fascination with all things construction (and demolition) that last week led us to the library has directed lots of Arthur’s play over the past few days. He has gathered his motley collection of construction vehicles with the kinetic sand in the tuff spot, brrrrming them round his little building site which I sense still has further to evolve.


Whenever we’ve been out and about he’s been drawn to diggers and steam rollers and cranes. There seem to be plenty around – way more than I’ve ever noticed before. But maybe that’s just because I wasn’t looking properly.

Back at home, he has taken tremendous delight in directing me to build increasingly complex creations using duplo and his train track only to smash them to smithereens, scattering pieces across the lounge and declaring an emergency as he brings in the nee naws to sort it all out. I’ve had to resist the primal urge in me to get irritated at this wave of destruction – I know it’s important that he explores how things break as well as how they come together.


His impulse to understand how things work has been focused on the vehicles themselves. We’ve found a great selection of YouTube videos that he watches with studied concentration as they break down the complex operation of an excavator, for example, into language that a preschooler can understand. The vocabulary is precise and the mechanics stretches even my understanding.


The most fascinating aspect of this play for me, though, has been how he has taken it into his whole body – a kinaesthetic exploration of the engineering concepts underlying the things he observes. He stretches his arm out like a crane, his movements slow and robotic as he fashions his hand into a scoop, all the time replicating the mechanical noises he has heard with his voice. He loves it if I join in too, both of us together forming a human construction site.


If I were taking the lead on his learning, I’m not sure I ever would have thought to take this topic in all these different directions. Even with my background in physical theatre I don’t think I’ve ever stood and worked out how to move my body like a crane. He is literally consumed by learning – and the power of that is more than a little awesome to behold.


Building blocks

The unschooling diaries: week five

One of Arthur’s favourite activities at the moment is building things with Duplo. He was given a set for his second birthday, but it took a little while for him to see the appeal (beyond eating or throwing the bricks anyway). This year, with the addition of a fire station and Batman set, he is well and truly away.

He is sometimes quite happy to build on his own, but he especially loves to direct: sitting down with me or Leigh and getting us to help him create the structures in his mind. We had a great session this week, straight after breakfast one morning.


I’d cleared my writing goals before he’d woken up so I was free to play without worrying about my to do list. And as we played, I was fascinated to see where the building blocks of his inspiration came from: not just the plastic bricks themselves, but the characters and narratives he was drawing from the stories he loves and the world around him to weave into the little world he was creating.

It started with a hospital – the red cross emerging from the pile of bricks and Arthur making connections about what it symbolised, and where his Daddy was working. He decided batman had an ouchy, and put him to bed to be made better by the doctor/fireman. Then he wanted a fire station next to the hospital. And then he decided maybe the hospital was on fire.

As the drama unfolded, more characters were drafted in. One of his favourite films at the moment is Toy Story, and he soon asked for Woody and Buzz Lightyear to come and play too.


They were roughly approximated from duplo bricks, but even just the suggestion of his much-loved characters was enough to enhance his play.


Sending Buzz flying through the air ‘to infinity and beyond’ got Arthur thinking about space and rockets, one of his other current obsessions (not that you’d ever have guessed form his outfit). The fire station/hospital was soon dismantled, and in its place we built a ‘Saturn V’. With some creative use of windows we managed to include some space for passengers, and that fired his imagination even further.


He was quite particular with his directions for building the rocket itself. The books he’s read and the videos he’s watched have given him a clear idea of the parts needed to make up a spacecraft – he is already much more knowledgeable than me!


We both had so much fun putting together those multi-coloured bricks, and with them cementing learning and weaving new stories. Once I’d helped him lay the foundations Arthur was happy to sit and play for ages whilst I watched, utterly engrossed in the imaginary world he was continuing to create from the building blocks around him.