AI: Educational Entertainment

When I was a kid I was pretty much a Lego fanatic. Much later in life, I found out that Lego is actually something of an educational toy. The same is true of Construx, boggle, and a whole slew of games and toys that I played with believing fully that I was having fun and not at all learning. The only toy that I knew was educational was my chemistry set and I never learned anything from that except that most of the chemicals inside it don’t burn.

What was your favorite educational toy? Did you know that you were learning from it? Did you use it as intended?The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. My cache of water pistols and water balloons taught me a lot about fluid dymanics, and about keeping my enemies close.

  2. Perhaps it’s cheating, but I’d like to shout out the Museum of Natural History. The time I spent there as a kid was like being INSIDE a giant toy, and the explanations provided by either adults or placards never felt ‘educational.’ It was all just awesome fun.

  3. Lego,
    I lived in the Natural history museum, Science Museum (Launchpad was effectivly a big toyroom of science), London Zoo.

  4. My computer, no question. (This was back when it was almost impossible to use a computer without learning something about programming it.)

    Before that, though, there was the Soma cube, there were Legos, … but really, the most important ones of all? Pencils and blank paper. Oh, and books. Books books books.

    Did I use them as intended? Well yes, as boring as that may sound. Did I know that I was learning from them? Of course. That was kind of the whole point. I guess it never once occurred to me as a child that more knowledge could ever be undesirable.

  5. Meccano! Not the new stuff that seems to be model kits but the old metal stuff with standardized pieces, nuts and bolts and so on. It taught me to think in terms of how most structures are made of smaller parts that don’t necessarily reflect the shape of the end product. It also indirectly taught me that every human made product around me was just that: designed and made by a human. I realized that if something was put together by a human then I, as a human, could take it apart and probably put it back together too. This realization came from disassembling other toys to get their working bits to add to my meccano constructions. Things like motors, pulleys, wheels and the like.

    Okay, some things are designed so you can’t disassemble them but even ipods which definitely fit that standard can be hacked with a little research and effort.

    Meccano taught me to see the manufactured objects in my life as things that could be understood more completely than their daily use allowed. It directly informed the tinkering I later did on my musical instruments. When I couldn’t find, or afford, a ready made bit of guitar gear the education I got from it was one of the reasons I wasn’t afraid to try and build it myself despite not knowing how to solder or etch circuit boards.

  6. I had a huge collection of those super realistic animal figures. It got me started on a life long devotion to nature and also helped me learn proper anatomy. The first thing I ever sat down to draw from life was a little horse figure I had in second grade. I must have drawn it dozens of times before I was satisfied with the way it looked. I could probably draw it with my eyes closed to this day.

  7. Books are what taught me. I had a chemistry set, a microscope, lego and an electronics set, but apart from some very basic chemistry and electricity-stuff, they didn’t teach me much. Books could always teach me more, faster, and experimental learning was never for me.

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