LEGO is incredibly fun, but let’s admit it LEGO can be a very expensive toy as well. For parents, one of the greatest considerations they have before purchasing new LEGO kits is whether their kids will constantly play with their sets or leave it on display to collect dust.
As a kid, I enjoy playing LEGO tremendously but I never had many sets to play with due to the price. Growing up I had to learn to maximise my own LEGO pieces, and I thought I should share some of these ideas with parents.
1. Rebuild Completely Different Models
There are several product lines within LEGO. The popular series include Legends of Chima, Star Wars, Mindstorms, etc. Some kits offer higher replay value than others in terms of being able to build a completely new model outside of the standard building instructions. My personal favourite is the LEGO Technic Series which largely uses Technic bricks/beams/connectors in the models. These pieces are highly versatile in contrast to some of the decorative pieces that can only be used within the context of the set that it comes in.
Recently some of the LEGO Technic models come with the LEGO Power Functions elements (Battery Pack, Motors, wireless control) to allow the models to come to life. Through building these models, kids will be exposed to mechanic concepts beyond their level: What is the difference between 2 wheel drive and 4 wheel drive? What is the effect of using gears of different ratios? How does steering and gear shift work?
Undoubtedly how much a kid gets out of the model is a function of their innate interest, but the point is that LEGO Technic has a wider berth to allow for independent user creations . If you are looking to maximise the replay value, go for the LEGO Technic and Power Functions series. The Power Functions elements can be purchased separately to be used on any existing LEGO pieces.
2. Use LEGO Digital Designer to Build (for free!)
LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) is a virtual building software that allows everyone to create their own LEGO models on their computer. It comes with an almost full range of all the available LEGO bricks and users can literally build any LEGO construct without spending a single cent.
I am a firm believer that creativity is a skill that can be learnt, and the LDD is a great platform for kids to explore what they can build without any constraints. There is a huge gallery of creations built by other LEGO fans as well so you can be awed and inspired by what others have done.
Another cool thing is that you can generate building instructions from your completed model, much like the instructions that comes with every LEGO set. These instructions also come with a consolidated parts list that you can then purchase and build in real life. Designing and building your own models is definitely much more fulfilling and enriching than building what you purchased off the shelf.
3. Buy Second Hand Parts Online
Let’s say your kids have come up with an amazing LEGO model on LDD, but now you are not sure where to purchase the parts that are required. One way is to purchase these parts from the official LEGO online shop . The alternative is to buy first/second hand pieces from the world’s largest online LEGO marketplace, BrickLink .
BrickLink is like the eBay of LEGO. As of writing, there are a total of 8000 online stores on the site selling 275 million LEGO items. Most LEGO pieces on the site sells for less than 5 cents a piece. If you are looking to help your kids expand the LEGO pieces that they are working with, BrickLink is a great site to purchase new parts without costing a hole in the wallet.
I personally enjoy using BrickLink for parts purchases. The top rated stores are usually professionally operated and have a wide selection, not to mention cheap delivery fees. Some of the stores listed on the site sells LEGO sets as well.
4. Join Your School’s Robotics Teams
Most schools (Primary, Secondary, JC) in Singapore offer Robotics as a CCA. These student clubs compete in several robotics related competitions every year, and the predominant robotics kits used is the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics system.
My company, Nullspace, coaches several school robotics teams for competitions and use LEGO robotics as a platform for extra-curricular learning. In some schools, students have to meet certain selection criteria before they can join the robotics club. If your kids are interested in LEGO, robotics club is a CCA that I strongly encourage them to join. Not only do they get to work with LEGO, they learn very useful life skills such as computer programming and problem solving.
If you will like to see if your kids are interested in doing LEGO robotics, we have a range of classes at C4RL from beginner to advance levels that runs every week. Across the year, we hand pick some of our students to join our competition preparation program where they will be trained to represent C4RL to take part in robotics competitions at the national level.
Top Image “LEGO Movie” is by Flickr User Nick Della Mora