If you can eek out the time for a trip to Asheville, here’s a great excursion for the last lingering weeks of fall sunshine before winter puts a damper on outside activities.
Giant LEGO sculptures have put down roots on the grounds of the N.C. Arboretum. An 8-foot tall hummingbird, a 5-foot tall butterfly, a bison, a dragonfly — 27 sculptures in all, made from 500,000 LEGO pieces.
It’s a good excuse to just stroll around the arboretum, but this outing packs a lot of punch on the educational side. It will hopefully spark kids’ creativity and inspire them to push the boundaries with their own LEGO projects at home. It illustrates the power of patience, showing them what’s possible if they stick to a project long enough. You could talk about other creations that take a really long time to accomplish but are worth it in the end, like the Golden Gate Bridge or a Mars Rover.
For my three-year-old son, it was an ace scavenger hunt — he could mark off each sculpture as he found it. Or take a notebook and colored pencils for elementary-aged kids to try sketching the sculptures from different sides, a good way to really appreciate their detail.
The exhibit “Some Assembly Required” is the work of LEGO artist Sean Kenney of New York and will be up through the end of the year. He’ll be on site Saturday, Nov. 23, if you can make it that day.
Take a pass through the indoor exhibit hall where 100 LEGO sculptures have been submitted in a local contest and vote on your favorite one through Nov. 10. FYI — entrance fee to the arboretum is $8 per vehicle.
LEGOs are a timeless staple of every kid’s toy box. As a kid, I built elaborate LEGO villages that slowly consumed the footprint of my room until I was eventually forced, under teary duress, to disassemble it. My mom claimed it could impede a hasty exit during a middle-of-the-night house fire.
If your kids like LEGOs, or if you want to get them hooked, drop in to the LEGO clubs at the Jackson and Macon county libraries.
In Jackson County, kids are given a theme to build around, but really, it’s just a suggestion, said Jennifer Ross, who works in the Jackson youth library.
“Some kids would stand there for 45 minutes deciding what to build, so the theme gives them a starting point,” Ross said. “But they don’t have to adhere to it. Some kids always make skate ramps, and that’s fine.”
Kids stand — rather than sit — around work tables to facilitate easy migration in the never-ending quest for the right pieces, Ross said.
“Someone might need a head so we walk around looking for a head, or they need everything they can get in gray,” Ross said.
Indeed, with an 18-gallon tub of LEGOs at their disposal, helping each other hunt for the right pieces brings out the spirit of cooperation, said Maggie Kennedy with the Macon children’s library. Beyond things like spatial thinking and creative reasoning that are inherent in solo LEGO building, teamwork is a hidden benefit of a LEGO club.
Kids sometimes build a LEGO piece together, Kennedy said, citing one group of boys that perpetually gravitate toward building a pirate ship together.
At the Macon library, each creation is labeled with a title and the builder’s name and stays on display for a couple of weeks.
In Jackson, each piece is photographed and put in a 3-ring-binder so kids and can look back wistfully at the LEGO creations of days gone by.
Both clubs welcome any age. Younger kids get the thrill of building alongside older ones.
“It is a very nice generational thing,” Ross said. Some parents join in the fun and build with their kids, but most just kick back and watch.
When it comes to toddlers, “The grown-up would be responsible to make sure the kid doesn’t eat a LEGO,” Kennedy said. But both LEGO clubs have an arsenal of the big chunky Duplo LEGOs for little ones to work with.
The Jackson LEGO club meets from 4 to 5 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at the library in Sylva and the Macon one meets from 4 to 5 p.m. the second Thursday of the month at the library in Franklin.
There used to be a LEGO club at the library in Haywood County, but it fell by the wayside when the former children’s librarian who coordinated it moved away.
On another note, check out Cirque Zuma Zuma, an African acrobat group billed as a “fast-paced, high-flying, off-the-wall, pulse-pounding show,” at The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin this Friday (Nov. 8). Zuma Zuma incorporates gymnastics, jumping, juggling, balancing and contortionism.