I remember my first Legos back in the 70s. The bricks weren’t part of a set to build something specific. In fact, the only instructions were one’s own imagination. I played with them much like I played with my Lincoln logs and erector sets. I made structures in which my action figures could battle. I built an entire city out of my imagination. But at that point in time Legos had not yet become the cultural phenomenon they are today.
Kids love Legos. Why? They get the chance to create something of their own rather than taking a pre-molded toy straight from the box. The sets are often part of a larger universe of Lego themes that kids latch onto. Lego City, the Lego Movie, Disney, Lego Batman, Elves, and many other properties lure kids in by tapping into their creative drive to explore the worlds they read about or seen on television. There are stories in those themes waiting for the kids to explore. My Lego renaissance occurred the year I was married, 2009. My wife bought me a Star Wars set: Luke’s land speeder. I loved it! I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977 and never stopped believing that my Jedi powers were destined to kick in at any moment. After putting together that set, I was hooked! Now my office at home as well as my media center are school is filled with sets, both finished and still sealed in the box.
At first, I used Legos in my classroom only as decorations. I did not yet have children of my own, so my experience with Legos was building sets as stress relief and then showcasing them in my classroom to the oohs and ahhs of my students. It wasn’t until my sons came along that I finally saw the learning potential of Legos.
Sets associated with intellectual properties such as Disney, Star Wars, and DC Comics are great, but for classroom use boxes with a wide variety of shapes and sizes work best. The Lego Group has an education division with sets and lesson plans ready for classroom use. The sets typically run over $100 per group of 2-3 students, so unless you’ve got some grant money sitting around this may be out of reach for you. I am fortunate enough to have a principal willing to buy the Lego WeDo 2.0 sets for a before-school club with third graders; however, I also have seven tubs of Legos that I use in my media program.
The picture I feature in this post is the Buckingham Palace set from the Architecture series. The Lego Group has recreated many famous building in Lego form. The sets come with attractive instruction booklets that also detail the history and architectural elements of the buildings. I like to create book displays with the sets. Examples I plan to use with this set are Peter Pan, Harry Potter, The BFG, The London Eye, and nonfiction titles about Great Britain and the royal family.
While you can let the kids create anything they want, there are ways you can structure their Lego time. For example, I have the kids read a nonfiction article about the water cycle using active reading strategies. They then must answer five multiple choice questions on the article. Finally, each collaborative table creates a Lego sculpture that shows each stage of the water cycle. At the end, the groups share their creations and explain each stage of the water cycle to the class. It’s loads of fun!
Another idea is to have the kids creates scenes using Legos that show various types of conflicts. For example, man vs. nature can be illustrated in a snowy setting using mostly white and green bricks. There may be wild animals present or even an avalanche of snow that the mini-figure has to overcome. The kids can write their own stories that explain the situation they see in the scene they’ve created.
If you have kids of your own, odds are you have old Lego pieces sitting around the house. Scour yard sales and ask relatives for old sets their kids have outgrown. Of course, you can also visit your local Lego Store or shop at http://www.shop.lego.com and buy sets if you like. Whether you have an ample budget or no budget at all, it’s still possible to bring Lego sets into your classroom or your library as learning tools. Happy building!