Not-So-Simple Machines

Hello Friends,

the Second Grade projects keep getting more and more interesting. My biggest challenge is finding the balance between motivating Sweetie to complete these projects, and doing them for her. (There’s that “b” word again.) Sweetie’s teacher has assigned book reports for the past few months, and overall, Sweetie does the work at her level. I try to guide her writing so she doesn’t sound like a complete knucklehead, and of course, I proof read it. Wife also steps up to review the work and help with the projects. Again, Sweetie does fine on these, but I think part of her motivation is that she wants to please us and her teacher. Having that understanding when we help her with these reports makes it easier to step back and let her do the work. The situation gets harder when the work is cool and she is motivated by the project itself.

Sweetie recently brought home a “Simple Machines” project as an extension of their classroom work. As she informed Wife and I, simple machines help move a load using less force, and include things like wedges, inclined planes, wheels and axles, screws, levers, and pulleys. According to her assignment sheet, she was to build a simple machine, and explain its function. Students could build additional machines if they wanted. My attention piqued when she reached the section that detailed the materials one could use and read an example made from Lego bricks. Wham – Dad hooked.

We happen to have a Lego inclined plane and platform in our “Family Collection” (I’m looking on BrickLink to identify the set they came from). Clearly, those two pieces don’t make an interesting project.

But what can go on an inclined plane, either up or down? Yep, a cart – that’s with wheels and axles.

Next came the Technic organizer with its fun variety of parts the girls don’t yet appreciate. And…pulley.

This process continued until Sweetie had built a cart (wheel and axle at each corner), an inclined plane, a pulley, and a lever.

We set about assembling all of these components into one cohesive project:

Next came the testing! No doubt Sweetie’s favorite part was saying, “Test number …,” then setting this whole thing in motion. Once we dialed it in, you would pull the lever and send the stack of bricks off of the platform. This load would pull the yarn over the pulley, pulling the cart up the inclined plane to the base of the tower. This machine moves and lifts the load on the cart.

Sweetie was into this project from the start. She enjoys building stuff like Lego sets and robot kits, so she was immediately aligned with the work. After reading that she could use Lego for this school work she was all in. I tried to keep her involved at each step, but I had to catch myself (more than once) and be sure she was making the connections and building this “not-so-simple” simple machine. I ended up laughing at myself more than once, reminding myself that Second Grade was long ago, and that I wasn’t earning a gold star here.

This project went well, both for Sweetie and the class as a whole. Clearly, it’s a popular one. Her classmates brought in projects at all levels and had a chance to demonstrate them to the class. Judging by the video Sweetie’s teacher took, this was also very popular.

As for me, I’ll keep working on my involvement with the girls’ schoolwork. Again, there’s a balance to strike here. I don’t actually feel like I’m re-living Elementary School, but I do feel like Wife and I are laying the foundation for the girls’ future study habits. I’m sure there is some good info out there for me to read about this, let me just finish this book report about Amelia Earhart first…

Lego Table-a DIY Project

Hello Friends,

Our lives have been full of school activities, what with the end of the year and all. I feel like a little break though. A while back I mentioned that I wanted to share more of our project life, so here goes…and the fact that it is a Lego-centric post is gravy on the potatoes.

Projects were a part of our lives well before the girls arrived. I am still a DIY kind of guy, but my projects have shifted. As life would have it, they have gone from “my projects” (1955 Buick), to “our” projects (1920 Bungalow), to “their” projects. This last category hosts a long, ever-growing list of things that need building, modifying, or repair. Recently, we customized a table to create a Lego building/play space.

I mentioned this table in my Lego History post, but the backstory is that we bought it from the liquidation sale when they closed the Sears down the street. Formerly for product display, the table is an all-steel frame with pressed-wood inserts. It was a little beaten up, but a sanding and a fresh coat of paint cleaned it right up.

Wife and I then set about the baseplate layout. She had picked up the green plates at Target for the girls’ free play. The road plates are from my Lego building days in the eighties (big thanks to the Q nephews and nieces for taking care of them!). As I mentioned in the history post, we wanted some type of layout, without sacrificing free play space. So far, the table is a combination of sets from buildings mixed with the girls’ creations. Free building and set following in one!

You can see that the height works perfectly for these chairs we found at Costco. There is also the lower shelf for storage (you can just see our storage bricks). And the girls love it. I don’t think a day goes by where they aren’t building and playing at the table. And many days, I have to kick them off so we can make it to school.

In total, this project cost under $75. The table itself was $23, a weird price because of the liquidation sale. The green plates are $7.99 off the shelf at Target. The paint is a $15 quart of Rustoleum (plus a handful of cheap brushes). Granted, we had the road plates, and the Costco chairs, so there was a re-assignment of existing resources. If I had painted in the warmer weather, I could’ve saved time and money with spray cans. But again, the girls are at the table daily, and their friends gravitate right to it when they come over to play. I think this project has already paid for itself.

So there’s our Lego table project. I will continue to share more of my projects, so you’ll be seeing them. I just caught wind of an IKEA/Lego collboration, so there may be a better, official option soon. Anyway, let me know what you think, or share your Lego play space.

We’ll see you out there!

May the 4th Fun

Hello Friends,

Yes, I know we are already days past, but May the 4th be with you! We had such a fun, full weekend that I couldn’t get this out to you all on Saturday. Our May 4th plans weren’t extensive, but they were fun, so I thought I’d share.Our main Star Wars celebration was heading to the local Barnes & Nobles for a May 4th Star Wars Lego build event. Bins of various pieces greeted the children, who had free reign to build.There was product on display, of course, as if the kids needed motivation to join the fun. They also had an activity booklet for the kids to color and complete. Sweetie and I ventured in while Cricket napped in the car.So here’s Sweetie’s finished escape pod. All MOCs were turned in to the staff for photographing and posting on their Instagram feed. It was kind of a bummer that the kids couldn’t keep their builds, but a giant poster of Star Wars alphabet helped ease that pain.The girls are Star Wars fans and Lego fans. They are not quiet to the convention/public cosplay level just yet, so the Barnes & Nobles event was just right. It was great to be out and about, and attending the event helped “launch” an adventurous afternoon.I hope you guys had a good weekend, and today started your week off well. We’ll see you out there!

History of Lego in Our Life

Hello Friends,

We all have our favorite toys from childhood, and mine are those colorful interlocking blocks – Lego (or more affectionately, “Legos”). They stuck around the longest for me, well after He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers & Go-Bots and M.U.S.C.L.E. fell off my radar. Man, the 80’s toy game was strong! But I digress…Lego. Yes, I was a big fan as a child and have rekindled my love for these blocks through my girls. Am I pushing their interest in them? Just a bit.

Taking us back to the early 80’s, my first “set” was Lego number 722, a general building set comprised of a box of bricks and an instructional manual with five different builds. In case you’re wondering how I can be so specific with this history, I still have the book:

This was my main interest until the Fourth Grade, when Cap’n Jack showed me the joy of constructing Lego spaceships. Always more of a free builder than I was (and a better free builder at that), Cap’n Jack stoked my Lego interest from an ember to a full on “Lego Maniac” Bonfire. In the mid-80’s “Zack” was a “Lego Maniac” (it was a commercial)- the kid my ten-year-old-self wanted to be, with the Lego collection I wanted to own.

But enough about me, the girls’ introduction to Lego starts with Duplo and, once again, Cap’n Jack. He gifted Sweetie her first Duplo set for her First Birthday. Want to guess what his son will be getting for his First Birthday? Needless to say, it took her a while to realize the blocks were not food, but fun. And things grew from there.

The Cricket wanted to play with whatever cool toy Sweetie was playing with. While she inherited the Duplo blocks, whose numbers had grown significantly, she would look to her sister and the smaller bricks.

Sweetie moved back and forth between, but her transition was sealed on her Fifth Birthday, when Moana’s Canoe arrived.

The girls’ collection really started growing after that birthday, with Lego sets becoming a go-to gift for many occasions. We also started adding the “Family Collection” to our house. That was five moving boxes and three copy-paper boxes full of built sets, bricks, plates, mini-figures (of course), and a plastic three-drawer organizer for the build manuals.

The Family Collection started when i was in Junior High and packed up my Lego city. My nephews and nieces took the collection from there and added the sets they collected over the past fifteen years. The girls have seen the Family Collection, but only get access to a bit at a time.

Thankfully, they are content with the bricks they have on hand.

Our latest addition, a dedicated table, adds some accessible play-ability as well as some organization to our Lego play (I’ll share some pics of that project later). Wife and I kept the layout simple to encourage free building, but there is a lower shelf to encourage Lego brick storage. As much as my heart loves these plastic blocks, the bottoms of my feet do not!

Did you grow up playing with Lego bricks (again, “playing Legos”)? Have you passed this interest on to your child(ren)? Or, like me, gently forced it upon them through continued encouragement? It’s great to see the following Lego has, and to see the community that enjoys these toys. I know they’ll be in our lives for many years to come, and we’ll be sure to share that with you.

Be safe, friends, we’ll see you out there.