Until recently, I was a Lego skeptic.
Good for the little kids maybe, I thought.
Then one day at my niece’s home in Wisconsin, I noticed the dining room table was rendered useless for meals by her husband’s latest Lego project. The space was literally overrun by a huge 5,000-piece replica of the giant Imperial Star Destroyer from “Star Wars,” half assembled.
Back in Iowa at the North Liberty home of a friend’s daughter, I spied a five-foot-tall lighted Lego replica of the Eiffel Tower looming next to the living room fireplace. Her kids are four and seven and their only contribution to this project was knocking it over by accident − twice. We’re talking a whopping 10,001 pieces.
These big adult Lego sets do not come cheap. You can spend $240 to assemble the Ghostbusters car or $550 to assemble the Roman Colosseum.
OK, I thought. To each his own.
But then last Christmas, I spent time with my nine-year-old grandson assembling his Ninjago Ninja Dojo Temple. In truth, I was his clueless assistant.
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“Don’t work ahead, Grandpa,” he warned me when I got impatient at the pace and started pawing at the various sacks full of parts. “You have to follow the directions in order.”
The directions, of course, are wordless. You see only the universal language of step-by-step images and arrows which, if you study them closely enough, are clearly followable, even for this aging brain. I became amazed at not only how perfect everything in the detailed Lego kit snapped together, but also my grandson’s skills.
He happily whipped through this project, whistling and humming as he worked, quickly identifying the tiny shape differences or distinguishing colors which dumbfounded The Grandpa. We completed the intricate temple after three days of intermittent construction sessions.
Intricate, yes, to the point that a small spider was positioned beneath the front temple steps where you might spot it through a narrow, slotted opening in the back – but only if you knew exactly where to look.
When the smoke cleared, I emerged with a new respect for the engineering geniuses at Lego and their positive influences on both kids and adults.
At Keystone Place at Forevergreen in North Liberty, for example, senior living residents now have a chance to work on both Lego projects and an HO gauge model train layout to help keep their brains and motor skills sharp.
Leading the charge here is Bill Ciha, maintenance director, who set up the model train layout and is now promoting adult Lego construction. Ciha is hooked on Lego projects as a winter hobby, and his extensive home inventory includes models of the Titanic, a huge snowplow and an operating excavator to name a few. He’s currently working on a replica of the USS Missouri battleship.
Ciha and his resident friends at Keystone commandeered a basement room for an activity center. “I got the train started and then it just took off,” he told me. “The residents like to come down here, work on stuff, pass the time and just talk to people.”
He thinks the Lego hobby will take off in popularity here as well. He’s already got Don Pfister, a ramrod on the model train village project, assembling a complex working Lego locomotive.
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“I just like to see a finished product,” said Pfister, who hand-crafted beautiful wooden toys in his younger years.
Six-year Keystone resident Bruce Clark also appreciates the benefits of Lego projects, puzzles and model trains for senior citizens.
“It keeps you busy all the time thinking,” he said. “With the train layout, one thing led to another. We got the church, so we had to build the cemetery. We got the racetrack, so we had to have a grandstand.”
Clearly, today’s Lego systems aren’t just for children. I may even get my own adult kit – a Fender Stratocaster guitar with an amp like the real one I wooed my future wife in 1964 when I was 15.
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Ciha maybe said it best:
“Everyone is just a kid at heart.”