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Monday, February 21, 2011  

Diamonds in the Rough (or at least bumpy)

At M. Edium's Montessori school, the activity of choice during “choice time” for him and a lot of his friends is playing with Legos. When I used to pick him up there in the evening, before he started going to afternoon kindergarten, he was always among the boys (and one or two girls) who were building spaceships or cars or whatever. And just like in any manufacturing industry, certain building supplies become valued commodities.

As always, it's about supply and demand. There aren't really specially-shaped Legos in those tubs at school, so it's not like everyone's always arguing over a certain cockpit canopy or engine or whatever. There are, however, specially colored ones. At Montessori, the transparent kind of Legos, whatever their color are so in demand that the kids literally call them "diamonds."

This is something we became aware of during our play sessions at home, when M. Edium would dig for red, blue, yellow, and orange diamonds. We didn't think much of it at first -- after all, most kids call Legos different names, most of which are fairly fanciful, if not outright free-associated. But once we learned about the situation at the Montessori school, it made even more sense. It's pure and simple nanoeconomics.

At the end of every year, Trash and I make a donation to the school over and above his regular tuition. This year, we seriously considered making the donation anonymous. And, since you can order any kind of specific Legos online in any color and shape, we considered making the donation in the form of clear Legos.

There's a book by Gregory McDonald called The Buck Passes Flynn in which the titular police detective looks into why huge amounts of cash have begun appearing anonymously on people's doorsteps. McDonald is of course better known as the creator of Fletch (and with good reason), but The Buck Passes Flynn is an interesting look at the unexpected (by some) havoc that can be caused when a market is suddenly flooded with a formerly scarce resource.

We kind of lost interest in the idea when M. Edium started kindergarten, largely because the Lego supply at his kindergarten is flooded with clear ones. As a result, they've become less of a prize to him when he plays at home, and he no longer joins in the battles over them at Montessori -- even for the coveted green one.

But that's not to say that he wasn't still amazed when we went to the Lego exhibit at the Children's Museum and he got to clap his peepers on a backlit "stained glass window" of clear Legos that was a good five feet on a side. And I have to admit that when I saw it, the first thing I wanted to do was box it up and ship it to his Montessori school.

Seriously, though, the urge to disrupt the zeptoeconomy at the Montessori School has mostly passed. Although we're not ruling it out for after he graduates.

posted by M. Giant 12:46 PM 2 comments


We had this same issue with Liam's class. But it wasn't clear diamond pieces. It was the mini people. It got to the point that they separated the legs from the bodies to make 2 people so that they had more to play with. It's kinda sad to see a kid playing with just legs! We ended up buying them 20 more people to play with.

By Blogger Andy, at February 22, 2011 at 6:08 AM  

Sounds like you need to hit the Lego Discovery Center if you're in the Chicago area! We have a membership and my Lego-obsessed children adore it.

By Blogger Bunny, at February 28, 2011 at 5:52 PM  

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