If you find yourself swimming in a sea of endless LEGO parts and pieces, it might be comforting to hear that you're definitely not alone—roughly 20 billion LEGO bricks are made each year. But how are parents supposed to reasonably manage all those very-tiny and color-specific pieces? With some creativity, according to Master LEGO Builder, Chris Steininger. Here are his tips to keep your kids' imagination soaring and keep your feet safe.
Let your kids decide how to organize.
The theories you've read online may suggest that storing LEGOs by sets stifles a child's imagination, but Steininger says to let your little one lead the way and figure out what organization style works best for him or her. "Just as there are many ways to build, there are many ways to store LEGO bricks, and there is no 'right' way to store them," he insists.
Should sets be stored together?
This depends on what kind of builder you have. Through his work and meeting so many different young thinkers and builders, Steininger says LEGO lovers typically fall into one of three categories: "Kids who love to build and display, others who love to build and rebuild, and kids who love to build and role play." The key to nailing down what system works best in your household is to observe how your builder plays. "For example, if your child likes to build and display, it might be best to store each model and its pieces and instruction booklet in its own bin," says Steininger. "If she prefers to build and rebuild, go ahead and mix it all together." If your child is into role playing with their creation, it's important to place his or her construction where they can easily access it. "Personally, I love to combine my bricks," says the expert, "because then I get inspired to build a tropical paradise spaceship equipped with a pineapple engine that can easily zoom off to an outer space island."
Consider how Steininger organizes at home.
"I have two kids: a boy, age seven, and a girl, age four. We have a few different ways we organize LEGO bricks in the Steininger household. For starters, in our family room we have several shelves in which either I or my kids build the products and then use to display—and bring down to play." Additionally, he built a wooden play table, with LEGO baseplates on top and drawers around it, so the kids can have ongoing play. "Sometimes they create whole cities on the table and then sometimes they will build one thing, knock it down, and put the LEGO bricks away. Also they often take some of the sets down from the shelves to role play with what they are building so the two come together," he says.
What are the advantages to sorting by color or parts?
In the LEGO Model Shop, where quick visibility and access to the pieces are vital to inspire all the creative ways to combine bricks, LEGOs are stored by color, size, and type. Mini figures live in their own cases. This makes finding just the right piece quick and easy. For some children the benefit of sorting this way is that they can easily find the pieces they need to create, whatever they are building, with limited frustration. "If my son decides to build a tree fort, he can easily find all the green and brown bricks he needs to make the creation as they are sorted in their own respective bins," explains Steininger. Again, this system truly depends on your child. "Speaking from the heart of a big kid myself, I enjoy the hunt of sifting through a variety of shapes and colors to find pieces I need—and often it gives me inspiration," says the expert. "Going with the example above, I might decide to make the tree fort a cherry tree because of the cool red elements I discovered in my search."
Go for clear storage bins.
Steininger believes they provide easy access and lots of creative fodder. Drawer systems can help provide easy sorting. One drawer for LEGO characters, for example, and perhaps another for each other major type of component. It's easier to find what you're looking for if you're a quick-thinking creative type. Plus, they're easy to keep contained and also store under a bed. Another popular option: tool or plastic drawer systems. Families can use labels so they know which parts are in each drawer. If you need LEGOs on-the-go, reusable bags are your best bet. Finally, Steininger also likes to keep a bunch of bricks in a bowl on the coffee table for building during family hang out time. "It's a fun way to be creative anytime at home, but still prevent the ever painful 'under the foot' encounter."
Keep your LEGOs away from heat.
Never store pieces near a direct heat source like a radiator. LEGO parts hold up the best when they're stored in temperatures below 104 degrees, or they may discolor over time.
Don't forget to clean your LEGOs.
Just like you do with bath toys, you should definitely clean your LEGOs. The brand recommends cleaning LEGO bricks by hand in either a sink or bathtub. Use water no hotter than 104 degrees, a soft cloth or sponge, and a small amount of mild detergent. Make sure you rinse them well and let them air dry on a towel. How often you clean depends on how much your kids play with their pieces. "If your LEGO bricks have gotten a lot of play—perhaps after a big playdate, birthday party, or a fun adventure in your backyard—it might be time for a quick soak," says Steininger.