How Playing with Lego Builds Language Learning and Social Success

Most parents of children five and over know at least two things about Lego. Kids love it, and bare feet don’t. Lots of us take the chance we will one day endure the pain of stepping mistakenly on a stray lego brick to support our children’s love of building cool stuff, but how often do we consider the endless potential of these toy building bricks to support our children’s learning and development?

The elbowroom are running a lego club starting November 26th 2015, but if you cannot make it and would like to know some of the skills we use… read on.

Lego naturally appeals to a wide range of children, young people and adults. David Beckham reportedly uses it to focus and calm his mind when stressed out. Research suggests it can also offer children who may sometimes feel more reluctant about communicating with others real and meaningful opportunities to experience social success in an authentic social club setting.
These benefits have been proven for a broad range of individuals, including children with:

  • Autism Spectrum Conditions
  • Developmental language disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Other social communication and learning challenges.

Initially developed by Dr. Daniel LeGoff, a Clinical Psychologist based in Philadelphia, USA, Lego Clubs bring together groups of children and young people with a passion for building Lego, providing a supportive structure to develop their ability to listen, talk to and learn from one another through play. Research has consistently shown that for all children, regular structured co-operative play experiences support the development of language and thinking skills and inspire and encourage social awareness and success.

How to use Lego Play at home to support your child

Although you might find it a stretch to provide your child with a club in your own home, you can still structure Lego Play to support listening, talking and co-operation, with you, siblings or on playdates.
Here’s how:

  • Make it achievable: if you’re having a playdate, or want to see your children playing Lego playing together, you need to make any joint projects workable. This means that the sets you choose to buy, beg or borrow need to be ones that your child has strong motivation for and is able to do with as little support from you as possible. Polybags or promotional kits can be a good start. Small vehicles are also popular, such as those in the Lego City or Creator range. For many younger builders, completing a kit is important, so smaller kits (30- 100 pieces) are more supportive of working with others.
  • Structure Your Supplies: Storage is a big consideration for all Lego afficionados, but is particularly important if you want to use Lego with peers, playdates or to build co-operative play between you and your child. It’s not uncommon for parents, therapists or educators to set aside some time for Lego Play and find that the child or young person spends it obsessively seeking a particular weapon or piece of shoulder armour. Minifigures, in particular, while extremely coveted and motivational, can be a frequent source of conflict, frustration and hoarding.

While a quick Google search will yield thousands of potential ways of storing Lego, we have found that for many set pieces, storing pieces by colour or function in clear plastic containers can be helpful e.g. baseplates, wheels, gears, pink pieces, orange pieces etc. Minifigures work well in a container with inbuilt divisions, separating heads, torsos, legs, head accessories (hats, helmets) and other accessories (armour, weaponry and story elements e.g. apples, spiders, snakes, flowers etc). We find it helpful to include at least one section for spare parts or figures requiring “treatment” e.g. figures missing hand pieces, sort of like a Lego equivalent of a sock drawer and to use an additional small box as a “holding area” for popularly requested Minifigures.

  • Set Up Your Play Area: Have instructions and supplies to hand. Think practically. If taking turns between siblings or peers is a problem, use a tray to clearly define who is working with which pieces. If you find picking up pieces from the floor is a problem for you (dodgy back, crawling baby), build in more controlled access to a smaller box of materials or use a tray with sides. Ikea’s Klack Tray is ideal.
  • Ground Rules: Make these clear before you even open the box. 2-4 Simple rules are best. You know your child/ren best, but popular rules include:

• Listen to others
• Use your words.
• Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
• Stick to your job
• If you break it, fix it. If you can’t fix it, ask an adult.
• If you need help, ask.
• Absolutely no teeth on the lego pieces.
• Help clean up.

  • Assign Roles. This is one of the most important parts of structured Lego Play to build language and social success. There are a number of roles which you can assign to you, your child and any other players – builder, supplier, engineer and director are some of the most common.
    • The Engineer checks that the creation matches the instructions/design. They tell their partner/the team what bricks they need, and gives instructions on where and how to assemble the bricks, based on the printed instructions that accompany the set. .
    • The Builder follows the direction of the engineer and puts the bricks together.
    •  The Supplier finds the right bricks for the builder.
    • The Director checks everyone is working together and communicating with each other.
  • Step Back, but Still Support: This is what it’s all about, what makes Lego Club about more than chucking your kids in a room with a load of Lego and hoping it will make some sort of difference to how they interact with one another. Sadly, there is no magic in the plastic.

The key to successful Lego Play where children learn to talk and socialise together is to provide just enough support to keep the children listening, talking and learning.
What this means is setting aside a dedicated time to focus on this activity, developing a high degree of awareness of what’s happening in the play and modelling and prompting your child on a moment to moment basis.
It means avoiding commanding, directing, leading and suggesting, instead allowing space for children to negotiate together yet still being available.
It means supporting children to develop skills including staying on task, communicating, co-operation, compromise and negotiation through careful and considered use of nonverbal communication, joining in, encouraging them to solve social problems that may arise, challenging yet providing emotional support. The best way to start? Just be there, be aware and give it a go, learning as you go.

Have fun! Without a doubt, the most important part of Lego Play for you, your child and any other play partners. Go on, you know you want to..
The elbowroom will be running a Lego Club supported and staffed by our Occupational  Departments for children aged 6-12 click here for more details. 

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