For her recent sixth birthday, my daughter received a very cool gift from her godparents: an Amusement Park Engineer Kit from Kids First. [I learned about this product from a product review at Mama Smiles, and had it on our wish list.] I knew that she would love it, and in fact she started playing with it immediately. The kit consists of 97 plastic pieces that kids can use to construct 20 different models. There's a manual written in the form of a storybook about helping two kids to fix and build amusement park rides.
I thought that this story-focused manual might capture my daughter's imagination. But it turned out that she had no interest whatsoever in the manual. She said: "Mommy, it's more fun just to build things on your own." She asked me to work with her, and together we made our own little amusement park, using all 97 of the pieces (my daughter's requirement). We then got a bunch of her Little People, and they lined up to wait for the park to open. Like this:
The whole process took some tinkering. We had to figure out which pieces went together. Not everything in the result was stable, particularly once the Little People started to play:
Never once did we consult the manual. This was free play, with a STEM focus, at its finest. If you ask me, it was a complete success.
I did not actually throw away the manual. She may find one day that she wants to build some of the suggested items. But I didn't push. She does the same kind of thing with her Lego sets. She might look at the picture, to see how something is supposed to look. But, at this point, following the step-by-step directions seems more like work than fun to her. And I want building things to be fun. So the instruction manuals will wait, gathering dust, until when or if they are wanted.