CNN Contributor, Jake Wallis Simons, recently wrote a opinion piece, Why Is LEGO Ruining Our Kids’ Imagination. Here is our response.
I recently read your opinion piece on CNN about Why LEGO Is Ruining Our Kids’ Imagination.
As an adult who plays with LEGO, an uncle of kids who play with LEGO and as someone who is part of an organization that teaches engineering concepts to kids using LEGO as the primary teaching medium, I completely disagree with you. In my experience, LEGO continues to expand the imaginations of kids all around the world.
Tablets, TV shows, and video games are constantly competing for a child’s attention. Surrounded by all this technology, we somehow have more children than ever before choosing to play with small pieces of plastic in a pretty similar way to what kids did back in the 1950’s. I’d consider that a win.
Sure, kids these days now have themed sets, from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars. But when I watch my 8-year-old nephew flying Harry Potter on a Ninjago Dragon to Hobbiton, I realize that he is still using his imagination. He just asked his grandfather to buy him a 2000-piece LEGO Simpsons House for Christmas, even though he has never watched The Simpsons. Why? Because the LEGO kit looks cool and seems challenging to build. Completing such a complex, big build will not only boost his building confidence, but teach him subtle building tricks like how to build an angled roof, which I never learned with my 80’s LEGO sets.
Like a writer who needs inspiration by writing someone’s else words before starting to write their own, these kids are simply starting their creative process, and these sets help them get there. These themed sets are bringing in more kids that otherwise may not have gotten involved with LEGO before, as they feel a connection to Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins, and Spiderman.
It’s true that, for a certain kind of kid, a bin of bricks by itself can be an amazing springboard for creativity. But that’s kind of like assuming that the Mona Lisa can be painted with a box of twelve crayons by any child with no prior experience in the arts. Sure, someone can do it. But there is more than one path to finding out just how creative you can be. For some kids, continuing down that path is easier when you have something really cool to show for all that hard work.
As adults and educators we know the skills, experiences and values that we want to share with children but part of what creates a life-long learner and a well-rounded child is empowering them to discover those things on their own. That means that to a certain degree, we have to meet kids where they’re at and not send the message that the things they like are somehow wrong or bad. The truth is that kids love Super Heroes and Harry Potter and if we can use that love to foster an appreciation for science, engineering or learning in general, we absolutely should.
When you speak of kids having their creativity stifled, it ignores the fact that kids come to building with LEGO in a variety of ways. If you are trying to help them find their creative confidence to build, you need to know and embrace where they are coming from.
In our engineering classes, we get kids of all building persuasions. There are some kids who love to build a set and are adamant about leaving it on the shelf never to be touched. There are the kids who choose to build based on whatever pops into their heads. And we have seen kids who aren’t confident building at all. For all of these kids, as they build increasingly sophisticated projects over a 5-day camp, you can see their confidence and creativity getting stronger simply through the sheer act of building.
I’ve watched students in our classes start by simply making the projects we ask them to do. As soon as they have accomplished that task, they can get into the good stuff, where we provide open-ended building challenges for them to solve. Because of the small wins of building the easier projects, they are more willing to take on more difficult builds.
It’s easy to say that this or that thing just isn’t as good as it used to be. All the fear-driven articles we saw last year about the evolution of LEGO faces is a good example of that. I, like many, have a tendency to use the “kids these days…” argument when talking about popular toys. I really shouldn’t judge though, since I grew up in the 80’s, when some of the most popular toys were He-Man and My Little Pony. Talk about gender stereotypes. It’s gotten better. It’s far from perfect, but overall you have more kids building and playing. Isn’t that what we want?
As for LEGO Friends, we have seen kids who love it and kids who shy away from it. We have learned ourselves that we must include the whole rainbow in our teaching kits because despite what “society” tells us, all kids like all colors. This is a complicated issue, but again, you are getting more kids to build who otherwise might not. And where LEGO may have misstepped with some of the less than stellar LEGO sets of the 80’s and 90’s, they made up for it with some encouragement (I.e. LEGO Scientist).
Kids are still kids. Just like previous generations, they still play to create, to express themselves, and to solve problems. And there aren’t many toys out there that allow kids to do that anymore besides LEGO. That’s why I teach with this toy and not with others.
So to answer the questions posed in your article, what sort of adults will today’s children become? What sort of world will they create? And what are their toys actually doing to them?
My answer to that as an educator would be to tell someone who is worried to first just breathe and relax. My confidence in the future is reinforced everyday in the classes I see. Kids amaze me constantly by coming up with solutions to building challenges that I would have never come up with. They are just creative as kids of the past, if not more. They are curious about the world and want to be challenged.
Just like with any of us, that palpable, creative energy that children have for building just needs to be encouraged more. And LEGO plays a crucial role in helping to cultivate that. We witness kids building their futures worlds in our classes on a daily basis. If what they create in class is any indication of what the future may hold, the future is going to be pretty awesome.
Inventing a focus at University Lake School’s Lower School
That’s for certain. Although they may not realize it just yet, but a new after-school program at the school is teaching them about engineering and at the same time, getting the students to become critical thinkers.
The program, in its first year, focuses on engineering principles by way of Legos. ULS, according to Jen Costa, communications specialist at the school, is the first and only school in Wisconsin to offer the program to students.
When Hollenbeck met Madeleine Gabor, a Chicago Area manager of Play-Well TEKnologies, she thought the program would fit perfectly with the Lower School’s theme of inventions this year.
So far the response from students in the after-school program is overwhelmingly positive. There are two groups: kindergarten through second grade and third through fourth that will participate in the six-week program.
Second-grader Richie Dallen felt the different projects challenged him at times, while he caught on more easily to others.
“My favorite part is when we play the games after we build,” Richie said.
The students have the chance to play games with their creations after the instruction and building stage is complete.
Having fun while learning
Like most students in the program, Richie has Legos at home and enjoys the process of building different structures and objects.
“Everybody likes Lego,” Lower School Head Adriana Hollenbeck said. “It’s a common language.”
During the program’s second session, students learned from Ray Cisneros, a play-well employee who leads the class, about a gondola lift and how to create one with Legos.
“We want them to get introduced to the basic concepts of engineering,” said Cisneros. “I think the problem is it’s easy to become disconnected with science and math because it’s so abstract, but we take Legos and basically take these concepts and they’re able to learn them while building.”
Cisneros said the goal is to have fun while learning basic concepts of engineering.
“In the back of their mind, they’re going to remember gravity, they’ll remember friction, they’ll play around with torque,” Cisneros said.
According to Gabor, play-well, a California-based company, will be in the Kettle Moraine School District in January 2015.
Hollenbeck was drawn to play-well’s motto “Dream It. Build It. Wreck It. Repeat,” because it matched ULS’s goal to have students be intellectually curious and original thinkers.
“When you talk about intellectual curiosity and original thinking, a lot of that comes from playing and exploring and making mistakes,” Hollenbeck said.
The after-school program has drawn a good amount of interest, according to Hollenbeck.
“We have a waiting list,” she said. “You can see how engaged (the students) are.”
Hollenbeck noted the school, in collaboration with The Hawkins Center, will host a conference in February called Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child.
This is also part of the push to get the students to be more innovative thinkers.
Each year, we are amazed by the creativity of some of the Halloween costumes that we see from our students and their parents. Check out this costume submitted by a parent last year.
This year, we wanted to celebrate that creativity by having a Halloween Costume Contest. Post your Halloween costume on our Twitter Page, Facebook Page, or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you could possibly win a Play-Well Halloween LEGO Bow Tie or LEGO Monsters Set.
Have a safe, fun, candy-filled Halloween!
At Play-Well, we always strive to provide the strongest, most academically enriching engineering classes and camps for your kids. We can only achieve this by receiving feedback from parents like you. So, we created a Play-Well Parent Feedback Survey.
By participating in this 5 – 10 minute parent survey, you are entered into our raffle to win a free PTA/PTO Engineering with LEGO workshop for your school.
Thanks so much for your feedback! Play Well!
We were recently nominated as one of The Coolest Places in the U.S. to Play With LEGO by Red Tricycle. We are honored to be part of a list that includes LEGOLAND and the largest LEGO store in the U.S. Here is an excerpt of the article.
“Your living room isn’t the only place to play with LEGOs. Across the country, there are attractions, classes, stores, conventions and other hotspots where kids can go bonkers for bricks. From LEGOLAND San Diego to the brand new flagship store in New York to a record-breaking museum in Ohio, we have the dish on the top places in the nation for LEGO activity. Click through our album to find out what’s near you — or where to plan your next vacation!”
On Saturday, October 18th, 2014 we helped out at a private company event that included circus performers and stilt walkers. We provided a fun LEGO activity for many of the families that attended.
If you’d like us to participate in one of your organization’s events, please email Jeff Harry at email@example.com. Play Well!