abstract deconstructionism

One of the questions people sometimes ask about the Goodwood Deconstruction Blocks is, "What are they for?" I usually respond with something like, "Weren't you listening?" You see, it's part of a bigger conversation, and one which reveals some fairly entrenched assumptions about what play is s'posed to be. We've gotten into this mode where we expect everything to come with instructions, or challenges, or goals. We get uncomfortable with too much freedom. It's like being out in the wilderness! Lions and tigers and bears, right? I'm of the other mind. I'm deeply afraid of what will happen if we let a generation of kids grow up always being told what to do, always working towards someone else's preconceived goals.

A lot of people have trouble with the idea that the point is there is no point. It makes them nervous. If I'm really pressed, I'll say the point is creative exploration, or something along those lines.. but I'm resistant to this, because I realize that by trying to respond to the question, I'm in some way validating the assumption that there does need to be a point. I mean, I'm an educator.. If I wanted to cash in on people's fears, I could blah on and on about this stuff, using all the latest educational jargon. I could do the challenge cards, and the puzzles, and detailed step by step instructions. But my little soapbox is that if we care about our kids, and we don't want them to grow up with soft skulls, then we need to resist this temptation. There is inherent value in just mucking around, and we shouldn't need to justify that. Exploration and play, that's what kids do. That's their job. By exploring, experimenting, knocking them down, setting them up, balancing them, tiling them, fitting them together, turning them over, using other toys with them, and spilling their snack on them, kids are doing what they should be doing. They're exactly doing it right. They're getting to know the world around them. They're uncovering all sorts of mysteries. They're learning things that work, things that don't work, and things that look neat. They're taking initiative. They're learning to think for themselves. These are the foundations of autonomy and self-efficacy. These are little units of willpower and concentration which are accumulating inside of them. 

So, what are the blocks for? Well, look at them. The shapes are designed to invite all this stuff. Their intentionally abstract. They aren't puzzles. There's no instructions. There's no right way or wrong way. There's no challenge cards. And there's no thing you're s'posed to build. What you see is what you get. They're hunks of wood with weird shapes. The funny thing is, kids never ask what they're for. It's like finger-painting.. kids know. It's the grown ups who are a problem!

Anyways, as much as I've resisted putting up photos of things you can build with the blocks, I was asked recently to provide a few examples of the different kinds of things which one might conceivably do with the different sets. I happily spent a bit of time playing with the blocks myself and snapping photos as I went. In so doing, it occurred to me that prescription and inspiration are two different things, and that maybe it wouldn't be all that bad if I started a little space on this site to collect examples of the kinds of things which the blocks can do. After all, they're kind of cool, and you can do quite a lot with them. So. For all you grown-ups out there, here's a link to a little gallery. It's way more fun to get in there and make your own constructions than to look at someone else's, but by all means, take these as a bit of inspiration.. And if you or your kids come up with something cool you'd like to share, please, send us a photo and we'll be happy to share it forward through our site. 


Matthew Hiebert 2014-03-06