I have five children, and they are between the ages of four and 16. I spent the weekend with them and the Nintendo Labo kits while my wife was traveling.
It sounds like it could have been a nightmare, especially since I was technically on a deadline, but everything went way better than I expected. I also learned a good amount about what not to do while trying to set up the optimal Labo environment.
So if you have small children running around, or just a lot of them, here’s some advice. Take it or leave it. I’m just a guy who built a cardboard piano, after all.
Have multiple staging areas
This is important because the sections of your Labo kit that are done and the pieces you’re working on and the sheets you need to punch out and all the little strings and rubber bands are very easy to lose. It’s a lot of very small things, all of which look like they would be fun to play with.
Which means If you turn your back for a second and you have little kids running around, those pieces are going to get eaten, stepped on or lost.
What we did was keep the box with all the sheets in a completely different room, and then have one of the older kids bring the sheets for each project out, put them in one area, have another area for pieces that are being worked on and another area to put for the sections that are done. This let me take a breath every now and again without worrying about something being lost or sat on.
If you’re low on space, consider arranging these staging areas vertically. If your younger kids can’t touch the top of the TV, they can’t break the rubber bands.
Be ruthless about putting things back in the box every step of the way
This isn’t that hard if you can make it a solid rule and have the kids watch each other for compliance, but the second you’re done with those reflective stickers, put the rest of the sheet back in the little bag. Take the flat sheets back to the other room once you’ve removed the pieces you need. Only keep the stuff you’re working on out in the main area.
What you don’t want is stuff getting spread around the room or the sticker sheet left out. The moment you’re done, put it back. If you need it again, go get it. You can be lax with this if you have older kids, maybe, but this is an important rule to keep things organized and the whole process moving quickly.
Have one person “drive”
There are no written instructions with Labo, which means you have to put the game in your Switch and follow the on-screen instructions to build the kits. You need to either use the Switch’s touchscreen or a Joy-Con to tell the instructions to move forward, or to swing the camera around to look at a piece from another perspective.
So if you have a lot of kids and they all want to help, you can have one kid hold the controller and drive by moving the instructions forward or backward when the person constructing that piece says they’re ready for the next step, or rewind if they need more help. It’s a communal effort! This gives someone else something to do, and your kids have to communicate clearly with each other to move ahead on the project.
This is also good if you want to take over one of the more intricate pieces but you don’t want to boot a kid off the project entirely. We took turns driving the screen, punching out the pieces and doing the folding. It worked out very well!
Let your kids do a bit more than you’re comfortable with
This is actually a tip I picked up from the development team themselves.
“I really feel that children have the ability and concentration to do these projects, so I do think it’s best to let them try their hand at building without immediately jumping in and trying to help,” Tsubasa Sakaguchi, Labo’s director, said. “There were a lot of parents who were genuinely surprised at how well their children were able to do.”
This was good advice, and the software itself has tips for replacing broken pieces or dealing with rips, and remember that it’s just cardboard. If worse comes to worse you can always order replacement pieces.
But the thing to remember is that you can’t really mess it up. I kept wanting to jump in because I was worried about my kids being able to handle a tough fold or a tricky piece of construction, and what I found was that they did just fine by following the instructions and sticking with it.
If you have a tendency to be a bit overzealous with helping your kids with things, spend more time than you may otherwise want to standing back and letting them handle most of the construction. Nintendo has made a product that speaks to children very well without talking down to them.
That all being said, if you or your kids end up getting frustrated you can always take a break. Just make sure you take all the parts you’re working on or have finished to your staging area so nothing happens to them in the meantime. These are long, multi-hour projects in many cases, and I don’t suggest many families do them all over a weekend.
Just make sure you keep food away from everything while you’re resting for a bit. We had an unfortunate situation with the Robot’s visor during a pizza dinner.
I hope this advice helps; once we had our system and rules in place we were able to build kits much faster than I expected while having a lot of fun. This is one of the best family-friendly products I’ve used in years, but a bit of organization and planning goes a long way to avoid hurt pieces of cardboard ... or feelings.