A CNN Contributor Wrote That LEGO Kills Creativity In Children…Here Is Our Response.

CNN Contributor, Jake Wallis Simons, recently wrote a opinion piece, Why Is LEGO Ruining Our Kids’ Imagination.  Here is our response.

Hi Jake,

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. 

LEGO Sumerian Ziggurat

LEGO Sumerian Ziggurat built by students.

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?

LEGO Letter to Parents

A letter to parents included in 70’s LEGO sets. Here is the story of the person who found it: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jobarrow/its-the-imagination-that-counts

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.

Respectfully,

Jeffrey Harry

Our First Ever Program In Wisconsin Got In The News

Our awesome instructor, Ray, taught our first class ever in Wisconsin at the Lake School.  The local paper wrote a piece on it.
Source: http://www.lakecountrynow.com/news/lakecountryreporter/inventing-a-focus-at-ulss-lower-school-b99398551z1-284160401.html

Inventing a focus at University Lake School’s Lower School

First school in state to try new program

Students pick out supplies to help construct a gondola at University Lake School. The after-school program at the Lower School uses Legos to help students focus on engineering principles.

Students pick out supplies to help construct a gondola at University Lake School. The after-school program at the Lower School uses Legos to help students focus on engineering principles. Photo By Evan Frank

Nov. 28, 2014

University Lake School students at the Lower School love playing with Legos.

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.

LEGO Lessons In The Work Place

Our amazing Seattle Manager, Molly Lebowitz, recently wrote a blog post for Urban Campfire, providing LEGO Lessons Learned In The Work Place.  We have reposted the blog below.

Source: Urban Campfire

In my line of work I get to work with engineers who frame skyscrapers, build solar powered cars, plan entire cities, and even design vehicles fit for space travel. As I observe groups work on these technical projects, I see their very human natures – some are clear leaders, others hold back and prefer to work by themselves, some take criticism gracefully and some, well, not so much. And then their parents pick them up and they go home for lunch. Oh – did I forget to tell you this is LEGO engineering?

Play Well
We guide these young builders, not just the fundamentals of physics and engineering, but also in how to gracefully face the real challenges of the world. They slowly learn to grit their teeth when their gondola falls off the wire, and start to rebuild – or to help their classmate pick up the pieces. They learn to manage their time so that they can put the finishing touches on their spacecraft in time for the class intergalactic parade. In fact, we teach all kinds of life skills at LEGO class, but the best part is, that it just feels like play – not school at all.

There might just be some LEGO lessons that we can apply to the workplace, too. In my former job as an engineer for an environmental consulting firm, I wish I had the following tips from LEGO class:

1. Put FUN First. If you’re not having fun while creating a model of your dream house, you’re not doing it right – you need to redirect your goals for the day. As adults this can be hard, but we really need to find ways to enjoy some part of what we’re doing each day. Always putting off fun until the evening, or the weekend, will eventually make us miserable people.

2. Keep it SIMPLE. Get the tank working, before you start to make it armored, six-wheel drive, articulated with a scissor lift. Lots of times, being overwhelmed is simply a symptom of trying to tackle too much at once. How can we start small, and really master a portion of the job before moving on?

3. DELEGATE. It takes trust, time, and effort – but it’s worth it. A team goes up in flames when one kid takes on the entire fleet of vehicles and asks others to do the “landscaping”. The tree-planting members become disengaged and the boss is overwhelmed and burns out. Take the time up front to allocate tasks and come up with a plan so that all members feel included and responsible for the team success. Allow some autonomy so that people are working on portions of the job they feel passionate about.

4. FAILURE is not a loss. This is the hardest one for kids and adults alike. You just spent 90-minutes tweaking the gear train on your motorcycle, and in the end, it won’t even stand upright. Epic LEGO fail. What’s the value in that? Well, you had some false assumptions on balance and now you can better gauge what will work and what won’t. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail again, but it does mean you’ll have a better chance at success.

5. Get IN THE ZONE! Psychologists have defined a special mental state in which a person feels fully immersed in a task at hand, so much so that he or she loses track of time. The condition, called “flow”, requires complete absorption and focus on a specific goal or challenge. When all 30 LEGO students are totally engaged in the project, you can feel the positive flow in the room. Flow is good for your brain while being intrinsically rewarding and energizing! Set yourself up to experience flow at work by seeking out moderately challenging tasks with a defined goal and rapid feedback. Achieving flow in the workplace has even been found to contribute to organizational goals including higher productivity, innovation, and employee development.

6. LOSING is learning. Okay, you probably don’t do as many demolition derbies at work as we do in LEGO class, but this goes for anything. If you fall short to someone else or someone else’s organization – figure out why! They know about something that you don’t know, and as soon as you find out, you can implement it for yourself, and then rise to be a formidable opponent once again.
In other words: “All I ever need to know in life, I learned in LEGO class”. But don’t worry. If you missed out on LEGO class as a kid, there’s still hope for you (adults can build too).

MollyL

Post by Molly Lebowitz, Seattle Area Manager for Play-Well TEKnologies.

Molly has worked in consulting as an environmental engineer in industrial regulatory compliance and remediation. Currently, Molly is managing and teaching engineering classes for kids in the Seattle area with Play-Well TEKnologies, with a goal to get more young students excited about art, architecture and engineering. Molly gets to play with LEGOs every single day at work!
play-well.org

Hear Molly speak at Urban Campfire: Girls Edition in DuPont, Washington!!

The Wonderful World of LEGO® presented by Napa Valley Museum

Wonderful World of LEGO

In early December, we were part of Napa Valley Museum’s Wonderful World of LEGO®. Models, MOCs and LEGO® artwork of all kinds will be on display, highlighting the wealth of creativity that starts with a single brick and a lot of imagination. Kids could try their hands at creating in the Building Zone and and participate in our Play-Well TEKnologies Engineering with LEGO Workshops.  Here are a few of the architectural creations that we contributed to the exhibit.

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If you’d like us to be a part of your museum exhibit, feel free to contact Jeff Harry at jeff@play-well.org.  You can get more information about Play-Well TEKnologies at www.play-well.org.

An Instructor’s Perspective On Working For Play-Well

A few of our Play-Well staff teaching and students celebrating their accomplishments.

A few of our Play-Well staff teaching and students celebrating their accomplishments.

One of our instructors, who needed to step away from her role as a LEGO Engineering Instructor with Play-Well TEKnologies wrote us a letter, as she was leaving explaining her time with Play-Well.  It encompasses what many of us feel when we are teaching our Engineering with LEGO classes and the impact we have on students in our classes.

“As my time with Play-Well TEKnologies has come to an end, I have taken a moment to reflect upon my experiences with this amazing company.  I wanted to extend a line of communication to express my gratitude for being given such an incredible opportunity.  I’ve learned how to become a better teacher, better engineer, and more importantly, I’ve remembered what it’s like to be a kid again.  As an engineer by trade, I was becoming bored and worried that I wasn’t going to grow further within my field.  Within Play-Well, I was given a unique chance to see engineering through a child’s eyes again and it helped me shatter the glass box that we, as socialized humans, put ourselves in as we are told that “no, that isn’t possible” and “no, that doesn’t work” over and over again throughout our lives.   It feels good to believe in the possibility of our ideas creating the rules and not the other way around.

I would like to leave you with this last story. A student, Levy, I had multiple times over the school year and once over the summer took the time to write me a letter for my last day of work.  In his own endearing seven-year old words, he thanked me.  He thanked me for making his passion of science “socially acceptable” and “cool”.  He said he had made more friends in school this past year by sharing what he learned in class with other kids because it wasn’t just science or math or engineering anymore.  It was Lego; a universal understanding between people of all ages.  So, I would like to pass along his thanks to you.  Without Play-Well, Levy and the students like Levy wouldn’t have the outlet they need to express and understand themselves. 

If I have to leave this company, as I do to help provide for my family, that was most likely the best way I could have ended it.  Working for Play-Well is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life and I couldn’t thank you enough.   I wish you all the best.

Cheers,

Tina B.

If you’d like more information about working for Play-Well TEKnologies, visit our Play-Well Jobs Page.

Thankful Kids LEGO Project!

One of our Play-Well students, Curtis, did something really amazing and generous for his mom.  She needed a teaspoon holder, so he built one out of LEGO.  His act of kindness and creativity inspired us to create the Thankful Kids LEGO Project.     

Teaspoon Holder

teaspoon2

Every holiday season, parents work really hard to make the holidays extra special for their kids.  One of our students reminded us that kids can make any day special for their parents too.  So, we have created a project where kids can show how thankful they are through their ingenuity, creativity, and a little bit of LEGO.  It inspired other kids to want to participate.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 8.58.15 AM

“I just wanted to share with you my amazing godson Steven Taylor invention for our electronic toothbrushes. Recently we bought electronic toothbrushes but haven’t been able to leave it in the bathroom because there really isn’t a holder for them…He thought it would be helpful for him to build us a holder out of Legos small enough to fit around the sink and also look cool…well without any hesitation he came up with an amazing toothbrush holder in under ten minutes and put little cute details around it like a robot and a flame behind the toothbrush…Amazing..we are so very proud of him and very thankful for his thoughtfulness.

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A child built a LEGO Vacuum Cleaner for his mom for the Thankful Kids LEGO Project.

Here is how kids can do this:

    1. Thank your parents for everything they do.  This can be done throughout the holidays.
    2. Ask your parents how you can help, perhaps by building something they need out of LEGO.
    3. Build the project out of LEGO.
    4. Post it on our Play-Well Facebook Pagetweet it to us, or email it to jeff@play-well.org.

We will share all of the projects that kids make throughout all of November and December in an album and a video that we will share around the country.

Happy Holidays!