Thirteen year old SelfDesigner Dominic reads exhaustively, begins his mom, Sheila, during our Skype chat. Much of Dominic’s reading is focused on basic engineering concepts like differentials and pneumatics, which he explores through building with Lego. Dominic began exploring with Lego at 6 years old, with much encouragement from his parents, who preferred him to make things rather than use a computer. By the time he was around seven years old he started working with Lego Technic, a more advanced Lego line with interconnecting plastic rods and parts for creating complex models with moveable parts. Sheila would post about her son’s creations on her blog, thus beginning a connection with an international community of Lego creators that continues for Dominic today.

Instead of growing out of a ‘Lego’ stage like some boys, Dominic began tackling basic engineering concepts to build engines and motors.  Sheila noticed Dominic’s natural talent in designing things. She describes, “He will build a prototype and notice any weaknesses. Then he will change it and build it again, modifying and improving it.” She sees that he has good problem-solving skills and is guiding him towards engineering, adding with a smile, “What we hope to do is direct him towards solving real world problems through Lego, like creations that work with concepts of green energy.”

To support Dominic’s growing knowledge and questions, the family has invested in many books and resources over the years. The landscape changed when Dominic began to use the internet as a resource as Sheila describes, “He bought his own iPod – that was my one rule as a parent – if you want to get on the internet, you have to buy your own vehicle to get on it. Through Instagram he found a whole subculture of boys who love talking about Lego. As he gets older there are still rules about how much time he spends on the internet.” Dominic jumps in with enthusiasm, “Some of the Lego friends I have are even in Australia!

Through his online Instagram community, Dominic hosts and organizes Lego-building contests. “Aside from learning about community,“ describes Sheila, “this experience is teaching him small business organization skills – he chooses the prize, judges the entries and designs the parameters of the contests. He’s very diplomatic, kind and communicative and the experience has taught him interpersonal skills.” Dominic chimes in, “A lot of people enter my contests! Its fun, and I just got past my 400th follower on Instagram.”

Dominic started with SelfDesign in grade one and Sheila reflects, ”My husband and I are academics so we have a formal learning environment here in our home. I like that SelfDesign doesn’t oversee what we are doing and that we have freedom. Since a lot of the things that Dominic does are so educational, I give him the time to explore. As our children grow up , we ask ourselves how we can help them find what they want to do in the world. Dominic has gravitated towards an interest and has had a chance to really explore it, which may not have been possible if he’d been in public school. This freedom is a gift.”

Check out Dominic’s Lego Instagram where he hosts contests for other Lego aficionados and vote on his Lego idea – the Minecraft Mushroom Biome.