Building young minds


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The desire to build is one of a small list of things that separates mankind from monkeys.  Other primates are content to weave a bed out of twigs and grass or, at best, hide under a pile of cardboard boxes at Durrell, but it is only Homo Sapiens who has raised his eyes above the forest floor and yearned to construct a stairway to the heavens.  

The history of civilisation revolves around these proud monuments to the human spirit. Picture the mournful swelling of the Taj Mahal’s iconic dome, the martial grandeur of Rome’s Colosseum, the third floor of Minden Place Car Park; these are the things that separate us from the beasts, and the people who live in Sark.

Little humans, themselves often no more than filthy, screeching apes, often experience the desire to build even before they learn to talk. I like to think this is the moment when they first glimpse a momentary understanding of the higher purpose to which all creativity strives, but it’s just as likely that they have yet to master the coordination necessary to crawl across the room and smear their own poop across the wall.  If you look at it like that, a child trying to make a seesaw out of Duplo is a truly beautiful thing.

As kids get older, most abandon construction and invention in favour of shouting and breaking things somebody else has built.  This is a shame – whilst many animals make noise and kick things, only humanity has the potential to build a functional replica of London Bridge with Meccano.  Those with the spirit to build are a minority even within our species, which is why they should be honoured.  Civilisation has need of those with the patience to assemble a Lego Death Star, whereas people who are more interested in poop smearing will only ever be truly useful if our fate rests on the need for their equivalent skill in making stinky, unpleasant Facebook comments.  Join me in saluting the builders of the future, although obviously I mean metaphorical rather than actual builders.  I hope Lego doesn’t teach kids how to stop work every fifteen minutes, read The Sun with their shirts off and overcharge you for a sack of gravel.

Building makes society possible
Birds, beavers, ants and badgers also build, but humanity does it best.  Without buildings you don’t have society, you just have a bunch of people sat around getting sunburned and trying not to get eaten by lions.  One day somebody had the bright idea of building a wall out of stones and mud and 30,000 years later you have symphonic music, hospitals and the George Foreman Grill. Lions remain where they belong – either outside being shot at by rich people, or in a zoo, surrounded by walls. Take that, lions.  A child enclosing Spongebob within a tower of protective plastic bricks is responding to this same inherent instinct – the desire to protect, to order, to civilise.  This is wonderful, but do consult a brain-doctor if you come home and little Alfie has covered the bedroom carpet with miniature concrete towers, imposing stadiums and tiny statues of himself invading Lego-Poland.


The most talented people in history have been architects, sculptors or designers
Leonardo; Michelangelo; Raphael – not just sewer-dwelling vigilantes but some of the brightest lights of the European renaissance.  Aside from a devotion to the teachings of Master Splinter, one thing these creative titans all had in common was that their interest in art and culture spilled over into the practical spheres of architecture and invention.  Whole cities evolved into living works of art under the influence of these noble spirits, a feat which has yet to be reproduced for what passes as an artist in today’s world.  Tracy Emin has never designed a cathedral; the closest thing she’s managed is a tent full of her dirty pants.  Banksy hasn’t got a single fountain-lined plaza on his résumé, the only thing Rolf Harris is building is a strong defence case and Damien Hirst probably couldn’t put up a sandcastle without a massive arts council grant.  The thing that unites these lesser artists? As children, I believe they owned Etch-A-Sketch and Spirographs rather than Lego or Sticklebricks.  Well, maybe not Damien Hirst, he probably started off pickling My Little Ponies.


The lego set is a metaphor for all my future endeavours
Many modern toys seem purposely designed to stunt a child’s fragile mind.  The ownership of a Furby teaches them nothing about the future, other than that society finds annoying noises and garish colours somehow endearing. This is only useful if you intend to grow up into Lady Gaga or the star of a TV show about Essex.  Lego, on the other hand, teaches us lessons about planning and perseverance the minute we first open the packaging. A child will soon learn that, although Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Academy is pictured on the outside of the box, the contents are seventy six bags of anonymous bricks and the promise of hours of work.  They will learn to wield the strongest magic of all – imagination, and possibly some very dangerous curses.  Harry Potter Lego contains the lesson that magic isn’t real, but that achieving anything in life is complicated, laborious and extremely painful if somebody leaves sharp bits of plastic hidden in the carpet.


Building things is the only sensible response to overpopulation
The talent to build a Meccano ferris wheel may be a rare one amongst humans but there’s one talent which is unfortunately less unusual, and that is the talent to build more humans. We’re all at it, filling up the available space on this planet with useless babies who will grow up to want semi-detached houses and a parking space near the office.  Who will build these semi-detached houses? It is only through the talents of the builders and planners that all these new people have enough food and anywhere to live that isn’t a filthy bolthole underneath some rocks.  Without the sort of people who play with Meccano and train sets, we would doubtless descend into incest and cannibalism within a matter of months.  Yes, parents – the child assembling a farmyard scene is the agriculturalist of the future; the Playdough baker will grow up to bake loaves to feed the hungry.  It’s true that the ones who prefer GeoMag and KNEX might end up wearing white coats and accidentally designing a new kind of nuclear weapon, but it’s still better to grow up wanting an apocalypse button in your Lego bunker than whatever it is the Furby-owning child will be playing with outside when the bomb goes off.

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