Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nanoblocks: Building Character, Building Bonds

A friend passed me a Nanoblock 'Elmo' kit to try out with my older daughter this week. Despite the difficulty level indicated as 'easy', I was a little apprehensive about whether a six-year-old could succeed. I had faith that despite the recommended age being 12 and above, it was not something out her league with a little 'parental supervision'. In my favour was her 'in-born' affinity for building blocks in general. However, there were many factors that might influence how this attempt turned out, such as her ability to manipulate the tiny blocks, her ability to comprehend the instruction sheets, and the perseverance to finish what we start, even if it took a little longer and turned out a little more difficult than expected.

"Lalalala...lalalala... Elmo song!"

After she finished her homework and had supper, I sat her down and explained the 'battle-plan' to her. I was heartened by her initial excitement, but soon after we ripped open the little plastic bags containing the pieces, we encountered our first hurdle: keeping the pieces on the table! On hindsight, to prevent the pieces from being accidentally being swiped onto the floor, I could have placed them in a little box cover of some sort. We decided to keep the pieces in the packaging till we needed them.

Biting her tongue in intense concentration, building Elmo from the feet up.

The uncertainty about whether her tiny fingers were nimble enough to manipulate and fix the blocks quickly disappeared. I realized that it should be my larger fingers that I should be concerned about. The smaller hands worked the smaller bricks well. While there was no need for me to assist with placing the blocks, she needed prompts with regards to placing them according to the instructions. The diagrams on the instructions were clear to adults, but deciphering them was a challenge for my girl. I used a pencil to point out on the diagrams what to look out for (e.g. how to count dots) and occasionally had to outline the shape of the blocks to make them more obvious. I looked forward to the 'A-ha!' moments when she suddenly understood my prompts and went on a roll to finish a sequence of steps correctly, before reaching the next 'road-block'.

Oops, placed this one wrongly... undoing a wrong step was not easy for little fingers with neatly trimmed nails.

With practice and guidance, it became easier to interpret the instructions and place the pieces correctly.

After about an hour, which included a toilet break, we finally marveled at the finished product and posed for pictures with it. Reflecting on the experience, I realized that the very things about this activity I feared were the very things that when we overcame, must have built her up to be that little bit more persevering and resilient (I hope). There were times when she mulled over why such an enjoyable activity had to be so difficult, but I reminded her that the finished product will be well worth the effort. As expected, when the puzzle was completed, she proudly held it in her hands and exclaimed 'wow Daddy, this is SO FUN!'.

Something else was brewing even when we did not realize it. Our focus on a common goal was the perfect platform for some parent-child bonding. During the hour spent sitting next to each other, there were many opportunities for me to affirm her, and I count these as 'deposits made into her little emotional bank account'. Similarly, the conversation and time spent together seemed to justify my role as her 'coach' and reminded me that relationships cannot be bought with money or material possessions, but slowly and meaningfully built over quality time.

I had much praise for the activity later, raving about it to my wife and colleagues. However, a gripe I had to maintain was the cost of the kits. Small sets cost between $10 and $30, possibly due to patents, copyrights, and branding. We had a chance to show our gratitude to the friend who provided us this opportunity free-of-charge by returning the finished product to her. I convinced my daughter that when she visits me in my office the next time, we'll have the chance to look for it. After all, it probably looks better alongside the other creations that this Nanoblock fan displays on her desk!

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