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Beyond Play: What My Survey Revealed— by Kathy Pientka

Without a doubt, everyone on our team loves one or both: designing and building. The passion shows in how we speak, how we operate, and even in what we have sitting around on our desks.

Some of us have legos, some little models, some have samples of interesting materials, and others keep small building parts.  So, it wasn’t a big surprise when I got a tremendous response to the internal email I sent asking everyone about their favorite building toys. In fact, within minutes the topic sent the company abuzz—  and trust me—  most general questionnaires do not invoke such passionate response in our halls.

Building toys on desk

The idea to ask the team about their favorite building toys came to me in the midst of this holiday season while I watching a news report. The report highlighted a new store in our area that specializes in buying and selling used and discontinued Lego Products. Legos played a big role in my childhood and I suspected that was true of many of our team. I asked about favorite building toys, past and present, and confirmed we have a very creative group.

Legos, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs were perennial favorites – and invoked memories of the big tubs that held them. Also popular were erector sets, Tonka Trucks, and those big cardboard bricks that can be stacked as tall as a child, and knocked down over, and over. Our team built with them as children and then as adults they built with their nieces, nephews and children. And those with advanced ‘experience’ are moving on to building with their grandchildren.

Little girl playing with cardboard bricksWe shared stories of free-form building with found materials – the predecessor of adaptive reuse. The father of one of our engineers was a fitter, so the engineer and his siblings built a lot of things with piping and metal. One of our architects used sand, mud, and scrap 2x4s for his creations. And several mentioned forts out of sticks and branches, blankets over couch cushions, tree forts – anything to create a cozy space just for kids.

The mother of one of our Construction Project Managers taught two-year olds, and was skilled at suggesting crafty projects to keep the kids entertained. The Project Manager recalls making homemade recycled cities. He and his younger brother would toy around with empty paper towel rolls, small cardboard boxes, and other recycled items to make their own small cities on a poster board with scissors and glue. They would spend hours putting together the structures, and coloring small streets between everything for their Hot Wheels, pet hamsters, and more.

The same Project Manager had a sandbox that his dad built and he remembers Tonka Trucks ranging from dump trucks to semi-trailers and front end loaders. They had shovels and molds for the sand and would often search for and find frogs and lizards that could “live” in the creations they made. But he said one of the COOLEST toys of his childhood is shown in this video:

A touching story came out from another member of our architectural staff who said that during his childhood, he accumulated a collection that filled a foot locker large enough to contain a grown man (or two depending on flexibility). At the age of 15, his family moved to Santa Cruz, CA but, regretfully, the treasure chest of Legos could not go. His parents gave the treasure chest to his three younger cousins in Middleton. Six years later, he returned from California to help care for his cousins and took a part time job at the local restaurant where his uncle had also worked. Turns out, the Legos in the buckets provided for the kids to play with at the tables, were 100% his collection from so many years ago, donated to the restaurant by his uncle. Over the next 4+ years, he enjoyed encouraging kids to build as much as they could before their dinner arrived, feeling a sense of pride that those blocks came from his own childhood, and inspired his own career.

Team members added some interesting insights:
Sculpy – amazing creations, also wax
Magnetic kits – Magna tiles or Picasso tiles
Lego kits may not have the creative stimulation that freestyle building has, but it’s like a puzzle in that it’s still fun to see how fast he can put it together without the directions (schedule is important you know – especially to our Construction Managers)
K’nex – used by another Project Manager to win a career class project in 8th grade, as well as a physics project in 9th grade
Minecraft (a video game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine) – is SO much easier to clean up

And finally, a comment that clearly did not come from a child or a childhood memory:

“Playing with building toys is calming.  No phones ringing, no interruptions, just quiet time to be creative.”

May you also have lots of calm playtime this holiday season.Lego creation

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