Celebrating 20 Years of Playing Well!

20 years ago, our founder, Tim Bowen, had an idea to introduce kids to the world of engineering through playing with LEGO®, when the concept of S.T.E.M. had not even been popularized yet. Since then, Play-Well has been lucky enough to teach over 800,000 kids. Here is the story of how a crazy idea became an engineering program for kids that now teaches over 100,000 kids a year all over the United States.

Thanks, everyone that has ever participated in a Play-Well Program.  We couldn’t have gotten here without you.

Millennials & Professionals Collaborate with LEGO

On April 9th, Lisa Chiapetta, a professor at Dominican University and Play-Well TEKnologies collaborated on a LEGO team building event at Play-Well Marin. Professor Chiapetta brought her Dominican University students together with working professionals in the Marin area to explore how they communicate, delegate, and lead.  Lisa introduced some principles of LEGO Serious Play and then with Play-Well, they conducted various LEGO challenges.  Lisa and Play-Well agree that play is a great way to learn about yourself, how you work with others, and how to determine your values.  Here are some pictures from the event:




Sean earned a LEGO Bow Tie for one of our challenges.


Ideas are percolating at the workshop.


Some of the creativity and designs made were phenomenal, especially for many who haven’t played with LEGO in a while.


Collaboration and brainstorming in progress.


Their creation works!

IMG_5163_3 IMG_5165_3 IMG_5183_3 IMG_5189_3 IMG_5913 IMG_5923 IMG_5944 IMG_5947

Can We Measure Learning Through Play?

XwzMgwV - Imgur

This look of wonder and amazement in our students is what we strive for in each of our classes.

A question was posed on the LEGO Foundation Ideas Conference Forum: How can we measure learning through play?

The background of the question was:

“Measurements of learning is currently driven by a discussion of standardized tests in schools, which comes with a risk of teaching to the test, and not focusing on the soft skills with children’s motivation for learning and lifelong outcomes. Who are measurements actually for? And how can we provide new ways of measuring the critical soft skills, like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, at the same time as making them relevant for the everyday situations in the home, and practices in the classroom?”

We at Play-Well have been asking, answering and re-asking this question for the past 18 years. After teaching over 500,000 kids, we have come to a few truths about play:

  • You can get kids excited about learning through play.
  • Children absorb and remember information when they are fully engaged, especially through play.
  • While it cannot replace scholastic practice in the classroom, play can be used to successfully explain and exemplify complicated academic concepts.

We know that play is powerful. We see it every day in our classes and hear it from parents. One parent relayed a story to us about a kindergartener: after one of our classes, who went to the playground, slid down the slide, and said to himself, “wow, this slide has a lot of friction!”

So, how do we measure this knowledge? That is where it gets tricky. Not only because the goals of each class are unique and difficult to pin down, but also because it forces us to confront an uncomfortable truth: we shouldn’t measure play.

Do we undermine the self-direction of play through measurement?

Play-Well Students

The entire premise of play is that it is self-directed and open-ended. Kids might play to explore the world, solve problems, or express who they are. These are only a few of the reasons children engage in play, and each has its merits in creating a well-rounded child.

Our friends in Montessori education have been strong advocates for self-direction in education: children may choose an activity and work on that activity until they feel they have completed it.  They are done when they believe they have completed it, without the interference of their teacher. They understand that self-direction empowers children and that confidence helps create life-long learners.

Any attempt to measure organic play limits the open-ended nature of it; and in doing so, we may unintentionally saddle children with adult expectations or ideas of what “success” is.

How effective would measurements on play be?


We could come up with metrics to measure some aspects of play, but we must ask ourselves: would the data we received be worth the potential harm created in collecting it?

Our most satisfying times in the classroom, as instructors, are when our students have epiphany moments. We know that we can create the environment for those opportunities to happen, but it is out of our control as to when they happen.

Let’s revisit the kindergartener experiencing friction on the slide. We had reviewed that term numerous times through playing that week, so at some point it resonated with him. How do you measure that?  When did the connection between our class and the slide occur?  Did he have the epiphany on the slide or somewhere else? Does it matter? Furthermore, in peppering the child with questions attempting to solve the mystery, we ruin the positive association that child had with learning about friction. In the journey from qualitative play to quantitative measurement, the true magic of play will be lost in translation. It will fall short of what is possible if we just allow kids to explore the world for themselves, at their own pace, and trust that learning will happen.

A teacher in the U.S. recently wrote a resignation letter, stating that she needed to step down because she believed her profession no longer existed.  With so much of her job being about standardized tests and constant measurement, her ability to actually be a teacher, allowed to play and experiment to get her kids excited by learning, was gone.  By forcing common standards of teaching in the U.S., the powers that be had stifled this teacher’s ability to do her job in a way that spoke to her children.

In the play setting, who is the better teacher? The adult or the child?

Errol Teaching

So, given all the risk, why would we evaluate play or use play as a measurement tool? We love our children and we recognize play as nourishment for young minds. We want to support that in any way possible and we want that support to be based in peer-reviewed study. This is where we hit the crux of the questions posed: who are measurements actually for?

In simplistic terms, measurements are for adults, and play is for kids.

If you were to ask a child at play, “are you having fun?” She would say, “yes.”  If you asked her to articulate why she is having fun, you’ll probably hear, “I don’t know, it just is.”  She might not fully understand why she does what she does, or what she is learning when she plays, but it is happening. Children submit their bodies, their minds and their spirits to whatever creative world they are traveling through when they play and they do so without judgment or expectation. You can see it in the way their limbs hang when they are being carried to bed after a long day of play: that child gave all of himself to his adventure today. The fullness with which children embrace and indulge in their experiences is something from which we adults can learn. So let us take an opportunity to embrace the process of play without analysis of the results. Can play be a valuable learning tool or method of measurement? Yes. How can we prove it? We shouldn’t bother trying. Or as a child would say, “it just is.”

What will save us? Perhaps Play.


Ken Robinson, in his lecture about schools killing creativity, explains how the musical Cats almost didn’t happen. The most successful musical of all time only happened because the creator was pulled out of a regular classroom and identified by a teacher as being a dancer, instead of someone who just couldn’t sit still in class. Ken explained that world-changing potential is sitting in our classrooms, but we need to allow kids to play if they are going to understand who they want to be. We as adults must exercise some restraint and allow children to experience that process uninhibited by our desire to understand it. We must treat play as sacred and do all that we can to keep it whole. This is how we can advocate for children and also for ourselves. Because the next great solution, the life-changing invention, the cure for cancer–these things won’t come from a mind that can merely think outside the box; they will come from a mind that thinks the box doesn’t exist.

Contributors To This Article: Erik Olson, Maddy Gabor, & Jeff Harry

LEGO or Mega Bloks: Which One Is Better? April Fool’s!


After 18 years of working with LEGO and teaching over half a million kids with LEGO, our organization has decided to make the switch to Mega Bloks.  We know that some of our families may not agree with our decision, but based on factors outside of our control, we feel our hand has been forced.

The main reasons for this change:

  • Cost
  • Dynamic Theme Sets
  • Non-Stickability

The cost of LEGO keeps going up, and the only remaining options are to use Mega Bloks or Lincoln Logs. We opted for Mega Bloks.

We had to document our first purchase of Mega Bloks.

Our first store purchase of Mega Bloks.

We also have been very pleased with the new Mega Bloks lineup of non-violent theme sets, such as Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty.  We recently sent out a survey to our families asking: do you find more of an educational component in kids shooting aliens as in Halo, or building Minecraft Biomes?  To our surprise, “shooting aliens” was the answer.

We have found that Mega Bloks have far superior non-stickability, a word recently added to the Webster’s dictionary.  We enjoy the fact that sometimes Mega Bloks simply just fall off each other for no reason, creating an extra challenge for the kids to figure out.  Now, when a student asks “Why did my house fall apart,” we can say, “it’s not our fault.”


One great thing about ordering Mega Bloks. They are never out of stock.


We have amassed over 5 million pieces of LEGO over the years and are open to selling them at a fraction of the price.  If you’d like to purchase our LEGO, simply email us at YouCannotBuyOurLEGOOnAprilFools@play-well.org.

We will miss you, LEGO, and all that you have done for us over the years.  We look forward to our new partnership with Mega Bloks and their gender-neutral Barbie line.



Happy 103rd Birthday Girl Scouts!

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low assembled 18 girls from Savannah, Georgia, on March 12, 1912, for a local Girl Scout meeting. She believed that all girls should be given the opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. Happy 103rd Birthday Girl Scouts!


US History Art Project in LEGO: Trail of Tears

One of our curriculum designers, Ben Pfister, recently did a unique US History Art project with a group of his students.  It ended up being one of his favorite History Art Projects his students have ever done.

“We studied the Trail of Tears, where in 1838, over 15,000 Cherokee were forced to relocate their homes in the Southeast and trek over 1,000 miles to current-day Oklahoma.

We placed over 5,000 1×1 bricks along a path to commemorate the over 5,000 Cherokee men, women and children who died on the Trail of Tears.”

Trail of Tears

Press Advisory: Building Boulder Out of LEGO For National Engineering Week

National Engineering Week: Building Boulder out of LEGO

WHEN: Saturday, February 21st, 1 PM – 4 PM

WHERE: Boulder Public Library

It is no mystery that America has some catching up to do with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.  The National Math & Science Initiative has reported that “only 38% students who have STEM majors receive a degree in that major, and 31 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degrees were awarded in science and engineering fields, compared with 61 percent in Japan and 51 percent in China.”

The city of Boulder, Colorado is doing something to address this problem.  Boulder Valley School District is applying for STEM Grants and building STEM Coalitions with local universities. Supporting local STEM non-profits like Cool Girls, hosting Maker Faire Boulder and Boulder Public Library’s STEAM Saturdays.

On Saturday, February 21st, Boulder Public Library is teaming up with Play-Well TEKnologies, an organization that teaches kids engineering concepts using LEGO, in a collaborative effort to introduce more kids to the world of engineering.  Over 100,000 pieces of LEGO and hundreds of families will be converging on the Boulder Public Library, in an effort to build the City of Boulder out of LEGO and get more kids interested in engineering and other STEM and STEAM-related fields.

Introduce A Kid To Engineering Day

For more information on the event, visit: http://bit.ly/BoulderLibraryEngineeringDayForKids

Brianna Laffey, a Play-Well staffer who is helping to coordinate the event, says “the goal of this event is to introduce kids to engineering in a fun, memorable way so they want to know more” and “help promote the good work that the Boulder Library is doing around STEAM.”

This event coincides with the beginning of National Engineering Week.  “The idea of building Boulder out of LEGO partly represents that it is going to take a community to help build the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.  We just so happen to be doing it one LEGO brick at a time.”

For more information about the Boulder Library STEAM event, visit http://bit.ly/BoulderLibraryEngineeringDayForKids or contact Brianna Laffey at 720.515.7309 or at brianna@play-well.org.

Play- Well TEKnologies programs are not authorized, sponsored or endorsed by the LEGO® Group.

Playing Well In 2015!

As we ring in the New Year, we just wanted to say thank you for your support and for joining us on our Play-Well adventures in 2014.  We hope you and your family’s 2015 is filled with happiness, fulfillment, educational epiphanies, and of course, awesome LEGO builds.  We hope you’ll be able to LEGO more this year and play well!  May this be your most satisfying and memorable year yet.

Happy New Year 2015 - Play-Well