Reading Time: 3 minutes
Legos are internationally cherished small plastic interlocking building blocks and minifigures that can be taken apart and used to build other objects. Over the years, Lego has expanded its creations to include products like gears and pulleys and even electronic parts for constructing programmable robots. As a result, there are popular Lego robotics leagues and Lego education products focusing squarely on programming, solar, and even wind energy exploration. So, we see the science, technology, engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) connection, but what do Legos have to do with other stuff like reading, writing, or art?
Learning by Doing
First, kids love to learn by doing. Period. In fact, noted computer scientist and constructivist from the MIT Media Lab, Seymour Papert, believes so strongly in learning by doing that in 1998 he worked with Lego to create Lego Mindstorms, a programmable brick that can be used to make robots. The name for the product came from Papert’s book, Mindstorms, published in 1980. Lego even funded some of his research! Let’s take these little S.T.E.M. jewels and extend their reach into non-traditional starring roles in the arts and humanities.
There’s nothing like necessity for prompting a child to read. Lego kits come with detailed instruction manuals that a child must read and follow in order to complete the model. Therefore, young Lego builders are developing their reading comprehension every time they follow the instructions for a new model.
More interesting, though is tying a piece of literature to a building project. Imagine building scenes from Alice in Wonderland out of Legos. Alternatively, build and then reenact your favorite scenes from Treasure Island in Lego. Check out literacy expert Susan Stephenson’s great suggestions on this topic.
Susan also provides ideas for using Mini-mizer, a free online digital Lego minifigure creation tool. Mini-mizer is a cool tool for creating a wide array of digital minifigures that can be saved by taking screen captures. It would be fun to use these neat screen captures in original comic strips, stories, etc.
Lego-themed stop-motion videos are extremely popular. A quick search on YouTube yields thousands of kid-created Lego stop-motion animation videos riffing on popular movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Creating a stop-motion animation video isn’t kid’s play, though. Stop-motion animation takes serious time and skill. Creating even a rudimentary Lego stop-motion animation video requires developing at least basic photo, video, and sound editing techniques. More elaborate videos often involve developing a story board, writing a script, creating an original music score, adding special effects, learning about copyright rules, and even marketing a video to friends and fellow fans. In spite of the time and effort required to learn, young Lego fans painstakingly learn these skills on their own without prompting. In addition, young Lego engineers who explore stop-motion animation end up developing writing and story-telling skills as they explore new ways to express themselves through Lego.
Creative kids are in good company, too. Pixar animator, Angus Maclane, builds with Lego bricks to help him unwind after animating all day. He also builds Lego models of animated characters to help him visualize his digital creations in 3-d.
Nathan Sawaya, a New York-based artist who has taken Lego bricks beyond child’s play with his traveling art exhibition, is an inspiration to all aspiring Lego artists. As a child, Sawaya drew cartoons, wrote stories, perfected magic tricks, and played with LEGO. Nathan’s Lego sculptures are stunningly realistic fine art that adults and children can enjoy together. Check out Nathan’s museum tour schedule to find an art museum near you that might be hosting an exhibition of Nathan’s work.
So, those sweet little bricks are really kids’ prototyping laboratory wares. Fertile imaginations unleashed beyond STEM flow freely wherever the creative spirit dictates. Oh! Don’t worry. Leaving the S.T.E.M. path actually leads back to it, sometimes profoundly. Check out Jim Bumgardner’s 2007 GeekDad article explaining how he erased his classroom math failures through creative discovery — outside the classroom.
Now go build some cool Lego creations with the kids!