Monday, April 6, 2009

Playing is Learning with Legos

We have accumulated a large bin full of Legos over the years. Their vintage begins in the early days of construction when I was little and Legos were simple blocks. Now the collection has accumulated the more complex designs of Star Wars Ti-fighters and Indian Jones Temples collected by my sons. When I was young, we made little more than simple brick houses but most Lego sets now-a-days come with parts that allow for all types of movement on any Lego creation a child may choose to build.

With this in mind, we can begin to explore how Legos are great for learning. Whether your child is old enough and able to use directions or they simply grab a handful of these plastic bricks and start constructing, Legos are a fast-paced avenue for problem solving and learning. Consider this:

- How can I make a moving propeller on my Lego airplane and landing gear that can go up and down as needed?
- How will I fit 30 pieces of various shapes and sizes into a 4 brick x 3 brick area on my Lego platform?
- What pieces do I need when building a Lego house if I want to accommodate for a door and two windows and still have a structurally sound building?

These are just a few questions that reflect how complex thought processes develop while learning (playing) with Legos. I went on a quest to justify my ideas that “playing” with Legos is really learning. Some of the results are in my article, “Legos are Learning that K’NEX our Knowledge”.

Here I want to explore just how we can use these playful “tools” as a vehicle in learning.

"Take us to your leader!"

To begin with, Legos and K’NEX both offer great tips and lesson plans for educators at their websites.

While my eight-year-old son and I explored the Lego website, we found a wealth of ideas and fun. He played some of the online games and discovered that the website offers step-by-step instructions on building various objects
(no purchase necessary!)

I also found an area to sign up for a FREE subscription to Lego Magazine
. Once you are at the subscription page, select your country from the sidebar on the right and follow the directions. It is quick and easy and, best of all, it’s FREE! Kids can read the comics provided each month and also find inspiration for their building ideas.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine find inspiration just about anywhere. If it is a new movie, we might have Lego and K’NEX versions of the main characters all over our house. If they decide their stuffed animals or Barbie need a new house or couch or spaceship or car… the Lego and K’NEX bin takes center stage! Websites like Lego’s will even inspire kids to make the structures they are playing with on the Web… 2-D is now 3-D and in their hands, with problem solving skills at the helm all the way!

No Instructions Required
A dear family friend’s favorite “animal” is the frog. My darling son decided to make her one out
of Legos and K’NEX. No directions, just his imagination and experience to guide the process! (Sorry the picture is fuzzy.)

As I mentioned in my other article on Legos, directions are priceless as learning tools. My son and I built a Lego Clone Walker together. I went step-by-step with him showing him how to follow the directions and find the pieces. We were half-way done when bedtime approached. The next morning he woke early (before me!) and finished building by following the directions the way I showed him. He realized that he could build a multitude of objects just by following the directions he had saved from other building sets and the most amazing structures began to emerge from his room!

Here are some K’NEX projects we built last winter during an “Inventors” unit study we did. The chain saw, blender, and car were built by following the directions. Comparatively, the bike and rotating umbrella table were built using the skills they learned by following directions on the other objects.

(Another funky/fuzzy picture unfortunately)

Problem solving at its best. Making things work… understanding how they work… applying knowledge and skills that are obtained.

Quick Tip: We now have a table for constructing on. It usually corals the mess in one spot. However, a friend recently shared a GREAT tip with me… get an old sheet. Lay it out and have kids play with Legos on the sheet. When they are done, they need only pick up the sheet and dump the Legos back into their bin. This saves A LOT of time on clean up and you will find far less stray Legos on the floor with your feet!

As you can see, Lego learning is quite easy. Most children are already doing it without anyone realizing their play is actually logging Homeschool hours! Nevertheless, if the above paragraphs still haven’t convinced you that free form Lego “play” is learning, you can coral their ideas with the suggestions below. DON’T tell them HOW to get the end result… just give them the direction and watch them go. Let them make mistakes… they will learn from these mistakes. As I mentioned in my other article on Legos, don’t help unless they ask for help or are getting frustrated. If you see a child getting frustrated, don’t just jump in. Ask them, “Would you like me to help you?” This gives them the help they need without making them feel powerless (because they think they are still in control when you ask their permission!).

Pick one and Get it done!
- Build something as tall as yourself. It can’t fall over easily.
- Build a boat
- Build a robot. Does it do anything special?
- Build a two-story house with at least 4 windows and at least 1 door.
- Build a spaceship that can carry people and cargo.
- Construct a mode of transportation and tell about how it is used.
- Build an amusement park ride. What is it called and how much does it cost to ride?
- Build a pyramid.
- Build something that uses only one color of Legos.
- Build a musical instrument, play it, and make up a song.
- Build something that spins.
- Build a pet. Name it. Can it do tricks? What does it like to eat?
- Construct a town or city. What is the name of your town? Tell about:
o Some fun places to go in it
o Some of the jobs people have
o Where people shop and eat
o Special laws

You can also practice listening skills using Legos (or K’NEX). In “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas” (2002) Linda Dobson suggests:
Give two children the same number and sizes of pieces of Legos or any other building set with lots of duplicate pieces. Have them sit back to back or in another way in which they can hear but can’t see each other. Ask one child to build something from his pieces. Now the fun begins.
This child must give directions to the other child so that she can build the same thing—no peeking! Have the children take turns building and giving directions. Watch them try hard to figure out what went wrong, and communicate better the next time.
As the children grow and/or get better at the game, you can set a time limit and/or add more pieces to build a more complex model.

Whatever you decide to do… just have fun and know that learning can and should be fun!

… Don’t forget, if you have a Visual/Spatial learner, especially one with ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or any Auditory Processing Disorder, hands-on activities are the best way to teach and learn!

Dobson, Linda. The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.

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