Have you ever thought you'd hit the jackpot in a store or market, finding amazing-looking block sets, at a fraction of the price of the big names, only to come home and find that the pieces don't fit well with each other, or the instructions are in Chinese, or the parts are so small you're worried they'll be hazardous to your kids?
This has happened to me several times. I've found a cool-looking aeroplane/helicopter/truck/construction site set at a discount store, high fived myself for finding such a bargain, and then dealt with the frustration of my building-loving and proficient child who can't get two pieces to join.
Time and experience are great teachers, and I've learnt that more is more in some cases – paying a bit more for a quality toy or building set often results in a better building, learning and emotional experience.
That's my experience, but what makes building blocks like LEGO and DUPLO superior? I can guess that it's their long history, the durability and longevity of the blocks, the fact that blocks from the 50s still match with today's blocks, and that there's so much variety, plus massive opportunity for learning, fun and development.
But I decided to Google the answer, as one does, and found a fantastic thread on Reddit, which pretty much says it all (Note: I deleted one or two sentences from the thread that had swear words or were very derogatory to other brands.)
Here's the thread, with answers coming from what appears to be "real parents", ie not experts.
My 4-year-old daughter, who shouldn't have enough experience to really know the difference, definitely has a much higher level of enjoyment when using authentic LEGO products as opposed to Mega-Bloks or other imitations.
I did just buy her some real LEGO and the difference in her interest, creativity, and pure enjoyment is just astounding, it's like night and day.
So I ask you, Reddit, just what is it that so successfully sets LEGO apart from its imitators, even in the minds of pre-schoolers?
– Lego has consistently manufactured quality bricks for 50 years. Bricks molded in the '70s still work with bricks made today. It's all about the quality of the plastic.
– Originality and versatility. LEGO makes a wider variety of shapes/sizes, or at least historically. I'm not as familiar with the plastic block scene as I used to be.
– Quality of the make. LEGO feel/look nicer even if just subconsciously. LEGO are only allowed to have a size margin of error of like hundredths of a mm. Otherwise they get thrown out, plus other methods of quality control . The LEGO guys don't make good plastic bricks, they make perfect plastic bricks. And that's the reason the human brain prefers them even if you don't notice it.
– Tighter fits, for one thing, perhaps. You can build things that will hold together even if they topple over or you drop them
– It's Danish
– My nephew is playing with the LEGO that I bought myself back in 1980. Does that answer your question?
In a great article in The Telegraph, called "The cult of Lego: why are people so in love with the colourful bricks?", the popularity of LEGO stems from the fact that the small colourful blocks appeal to almost everyone, of any age. Also, the potential to build something is endless.
The article also says that a professor of mathematics calculated that there are more than 915 million ways to combine six eight-stud Lego bricks!
However, more than my opinion, the other parents and the experts, just ask my son what blocks he chooses for every reward and birthday. It's LEGO, and back in the day there were plenty age-appropriate tantrums for DUPLO too. It's something that builds him up, that's for sure.