As a brand that’s been around since 1949, there are few of us who haven’t grown up with the famous building blocks in one way or another – even today’s grandparents played with them as kids, and thus will fondly look at them when considering gift ideas for the holidays. Can LEGO still ignite the creative spark that we remember from our childhood? We took a look at specific set that was designed just for that purpose.As anyone over 30 will tell you, LEGO was quite different back in the day. While today’s toy store shelves are dominated by themed sets based on LEGO’s own properties like Ninjago as well as third party licenses like Star Wars and Harry Potter, the idea of themed LEGO sets for kids in the 1980s didn’t go very far beyond “space LEGO”. There were hardly any custom sets, and hardly any custom pieces, and as a result kids frequently mixed and matched and made their own creations.
You could be fooled into thinking that that’s a lost art these days, but in our search for amazing holiday gift ideas we recently started exploring LEGO kit 11016, also known as the Creative Building Blocks set. While it does feature a booklet with instructions that will let you build seven different miniature-sized designs – from a tiny watermill to a mouse sitting atop a block of cheese – its 1200 pieces are mostly geared towards inviting you to experiment, design and create.
And while that evokes memories of the LEGO kits of old, the set is also a testament to how much LEGO has branched out over the years. There are almost 20 different colors here, unevenly divided across the 1200 pieces. Within each color, you’ll also find a great deal of diversity in terms of shapes and sizes, so this isn’t one of those classic kits where half the bricks were 2 by 4 blocks – you have a lot more options here without having to resort to a Minecraft-like look for everything.
The downside of all that variety in terms of colors and shapes is that you’ll likely run out of a certain type of piece in a certain color relatively quickly – which initially feels ironic when you consider it’s a 1200 piece set. If you’re building a house, don’t plan on having four walls with the same color, or a roof that’s all red. But while “building a house” used to be bit of a norm in the olden days, this “restriction” also serves as an invitation to think outside the box. So far, we’ve built ships, a dinosaur and an airplane. It’s a shame the box doesn’t contain wheels though, as just four of those would have really opened up our options towards cars, trains and busses.
And where series like LEGO Friends are primarily geared towards girls and other licensed kits also have their built-in target audiences, these classic bricks transcend those boundaries by letting boys, girls, parents and grandparents all play together and create what they want. With plenty of pieces to go around, everyone can join in as well – something that’s a lot trickier when building a pre-designed kit. This is the type of kit that invites cooperation and shared creativity as people discover and imagine new designs together, regardless of the franchises they know and love.
Of course if your kid is completely crazy about Ninjago, Batman, Mario or Harry Potter, it’s going to be hard to compete with the (licensed) LEGO sets that are out there for those brands. And yes, the thought of building a LEGO Millennium Falcon is exciting to us as well – so we get it. The big benefit of sets like the Creative Building Blocks set, however, is that you get a little more bang for your buck in terms of the number of bricks that’s included – plus it makes for a great family gift that’s not just meant for the one giant fan in the household. And isn’t coming and playing together what the holidays are all about?