Toys and the Redefinition of Childhood

Edited Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Edited Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This morning as I was waiting for the water to boil for my tea, I threw on the daily podcast The Briefing by Al Mohler. This is one of my go-to podcasts for engaging culture with a Christian worldview, and Mohler is a master at teasing out worldview themes in headlines from around the world.

There was one headline Mohler respun that caught my attention this morning: The Redefinition of Childhood as Sales of Lego Products Decline. The original headline reads Lego Will Cut 1,400 Jobs as Profit Dips, Despite Big-Screen Heroics.

I wanted to highlight Mohler’s headline because it got me thinking of my own childhood. What toys did I play with as a kid, and did it really make a difference in who I am today?

Even though I find myself designing almost all of what you see at Missio Dei, I do not consider myself to be a creative person. I cannot seem to picture something in my head and make it happen like my wonderful wife can. She is an artist from a family of artists who can make even a stick figure look life-like. My brain can’t do that, but it can rearrange shapes and patterns and colors into something like what you see here at MD. Some might consider that an “artistic style” or that I don’t give myself enough credit, but whatever. I just don’t see it in the same light.

I don’t have a terribly vivid memory of my childhood, but when I hone in on what I played with and what I liked to do, it does actually lead to some interesting correlations to my likes, interests, and passions today.

To put it bluntly, I can’t play with LEGOs for my life. I mean, I can follow directions for a model (I have fond memories of building the Millenium Falcon on my shore house table one morning), but I can’t create like other people can. However, I did like to play with action figures with various outfits and gadgets, toy cars would go zooming on the kitchen floor, and many many books would be read. However, I also grew up when console gaming was really taking off. I remember owning a PS1 and PS2 and even now in my adulthood, I’ve owned both a PS3 and PS4. I immersed myself in the gaming world probably just as much as I did in the real world. I played by myself, then, when online gaming was a reality, with a worldwide community online. Hours and hours of storylines, action fighting, puzzle solving, and exploration.

But what does that mean? Does it mean anything?

The article explains how LEGO is going to increase their efforts in smartphone and other digital technologies to keep up in the digital age, but Mohler argues that spatial, three-dimensional play helps wire the brain with spatial knowledge, and “That’s simply not going to happen on a smartphone.” That’s not just his opinion. It’s a well-researched fact that the way that children, even infants, interact with the physical world is vital to their growth and development. So it would seem that LEGOs first profit loss in 13 years might actually have implications in the way our children are growing up. What will the adults of the future look like?

Ultimately, it’s a great question and one we need to consider as we continue to grow older and change life stages. I do think there are benefits of technology that can and do help our children learn and grow, but I also agree with Mohler that three-dimensional play is crucial to their growth and development.


What do you think? Will more screens = better children? Or does playing with actual physical toys promote better growth and development? What biblical principles can help guide a parent’s decision-making in these areas? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!