Sorting Lego Meditation

multi colored lego bricks
Bricks by Javier Belloso Martinez (2014) CC BY-ND-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a Lego sorting event sponsored by The Giving Brick, a KC area nonprofit that collects, cleans, sorts and re-assembles kits of donated Legos for kids going through the CASA system. (My brother and I went through his closets back in March to make our own Lego donation.)

The event was being held in the main conference room at a local public library. When I arrived, I saw the family that run the Giving Brick schlepping these enormous carts and tubs from their minivan into the library. In the conference room, a motley collection of adults and kids nervously milled around waiting for directions.

The organizers (helpfully wearing green Giving Brick t-shirts) set out two tables of unsorted Lego, then several smaller tables with plastic cups/tubs/zip lock bags. They explained: First, we will rough sort the pieces by type using the cups. Then, we will sub-sort the pieces (by color, type, etc) and put into plastic bags.

This sounded pretty straightforward, so we all got to work around two tables filled with what looked like thousands of Lego pieces. I grabbed a plastic cup and started gingerly picking out “2 x 4” bricks (2 dots by 4 dots). Then I made a cup for “round things” that I didn’t really have a better name for. The lady next to me was make cups for long (1 x 8?) bricks, so I gave one to her for her cup. I was chatting with the other people at my table, trying to figure out if there were already cups made for some of the more novel pieces I was finding.

The main sorting table was getting pretty crowded, so I took my cup of assorted “round” pieces over to one of the sub-sorting tables to see if I could make sense of my collection. One of the kids (maybe 11 years old?) wearing a Giving Brick t-shirt explained that if I could find 3 of a one kind of piece, I could make a bag for it. Of my round pieces, I had several things that could be parts of wheels, small cap-like pieces, domes and round cylindrical segments.

I sub-sorted my cache into smaller and smaller collections of like objects. It was supremely satisfying. I have always been a fan of taxonomy, and even if I didn’t have the real names of the pieces I was sorting, I loved the challenge of figuring out “like” and “not-like” objects. (When I was student-teaching 9th grade biology, we did an activity called Caminalcules, which challenged students to create a phylogeny of various imaginary creatures based on their shared and differing characteristics.)

There was also a meditative quality to the sorting, a “flow state,” in which two hours of Lego sorting (which sounds incredibly tedious) went by extremely quickly. When my cup was emptied, I was soon handed a new cup to continue sub-sorting. I got to talk with all sorts of people: Teens, tweens, parents with kids, couples who like to volunteer different activities, single adults who were all captivated by the process of sorting Legos. “It really appeals to my OCD tendencies,” one lady sitting across from me at a sub-sorting table said, as she presided over many cups of meticulous categorized pieces.

We didn’t want to stop, so when the next community group came to use the room at 3pm, there was a mad dash of volunteers cleaning up. We had lingered just a little too long trying to find the right bag or cup to put those last few Lego pieces. It was very satisfying to see all the neatly stacked bags of sorted Lego. Other volunteers will assemble the sorted Legos into kits that the Giving Brick will repackage for kids.

The pieces that didn’t get sorted just went back into the general collection to be sorted at the next gathering of volunteers. I can’t wait!

Yes, there are actual names for those pieces. Check out Rebrickable’s part sorting database. We were definitely picking up some of the lingo by the end of the 2 hour session.

Classification and Evolution of Caminalcules by Robert P. Gendron


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