LEGO More Than A Toy

by derek on June 13, 2007 · 8 comments

Nathan Sawaya

By now you have probably seen the recent articles and buzz surrounding Nathan Sawaya, a man that has made the transition from being an attorney to a LEGO artist.
Sawaya has a national touring exhibit, The Art of the Brick, that is touring around the country. With both of my children being very interested in LEGO, we are lucky enough that the exhibit will be making a stop not too far from our home.
As my wife and I were talking about taking the kids to the exhibit on the opening day, where they will have an opportunity to meet Nathan Sawaya, I began to think about the fact that LEGO really is more than just a toy. It is not too often that you will find a toy that can entertain children of all ages (even those of us that some people call adults) and provide a handful of learning opportunities along the way.
Learning Tool
It is kind of funny to think that LEGO can be a powerful learning tool for children but I have seen how my oldest son has learned and/or refined some skills by playing with LEGO. If you don’t believe this is possible, consider the following:

  • Independent Thinking :: When my son buys a new LEGO set, he will follow the instruction book to build the set the first time. But once he has built the set and played with it a little bit, he usually tears it apart and adds the pieces to his overflowing buckets of LEGO pieces. This is where he has learned to think independently as he will spend hours sitting with the buckets of LEGO to create his own custom designs. There have been numerous instances where he has really impressed me with his ability to create something on his own without direction.
  • Problem Solving :: In the process of building a LEGO set for the first time, it is quite common to make a mistake with one of the steps along the way. Unfortunately the mistake is often not realized until many steps later. When my kids first started building with LEGO, they would complain that something wasn’t right and ask me to fix it for them. As they have progressed, they have now learned how to go back through the steps to verify everything and discover where they made the mistake.
  • Social Skills :: This seems somewhat out of place given the nature of playing with LEGO is often a solitary activity. However, my kids really like to spend some time with their friends where they bring a big bucket of LEGO outside and they sit around together and build a new creation. They communicate with one another to decide who will be responsible for building each component of their creation and have learned how to work well as a team.
  • Creativity :: This really goes hand-in-hand with the independent thinking that I mentioned earlier but building with LEGO can really help grow your child’s creativity. As I had mentioned, my son really prefers to sit with the big buckets of pieces and try to build his own custom designs. Some of the designs that he has created have really amazed me as he incorporates very intricate details and usually develops an elaborate storyline to use while playing with his creations.

There are many other skills that I feel can be developed and/or refined by playing with LEGO but I think this demonstrates the potential of something many people view as just a toy. As we visit the Nathan Sawaya exhibit, we will be looking for additional learning opportunities and also hoping to have a little fun.
Did you play with LEGO as a child or do your children do so now? What do you think about LEGO as a learning tool for children?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler Ingram June 14, 2007 at 8:32 am

How I miss playing with Lego!
I used to do what you son does; Build the lego item by the instruction book, play with it a bit, destroy it and then build something completely unique.
Now what is a lot of fun are the robotic lego (for some reason the name escapes me). We used to play with them in highschool during one of out technology classes. We’d make cars that could drive themselves. They would have sensors and if they hit a wall they would back up turn around and go the other way 🙂

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Damien Riley June 14, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Great post, very helpful to a parent. My daughter has a large file box I use as her lego container (shes only 2 1/2) but I love to play with her and watch her mind figure how things inter-relate. You are onto something in this article for sure.
I jokingly sharpie’d “Isabella’s Construction Company” on the side.
Legos are great, no question. I’ll always be partial to Lincoln logs for myself.

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derek June 14, 2007 at 11:57 pm

@Tyler :: We haven’t gotten him into the robotic LEGO sets yet but I am sure he would love to play around with those and that could add even more learning opportunities. BTW, I think they are called Technic.
@Damien :: Thanks, it is amazing to see how a toy can really challenge a child to grow and it is great to hear that you get to share that with your daughter. I tried doing the Lincoln Log thing with my kids but they never really got into it like they have with LEGO.

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Tyler Ingram June 15, 2007 at 8:06 am

Yea that’s it Technic! So much fun! I also also have Construx (think that was it) when I was little. I should of become an engineer or architect I think, lol!

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derek June 15, 2007 at 9:19 am

My son always says that he wants to be a professional LEGO builder when he grows up and I continue to encourage him. We are about to head out to visit The Art of the Brick and meet Nathan Sawaya, who is an actual professional LEGO builder so that should be kind of cool.

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Ken Xu June 15, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Yup! LEGO is a ultimate toys of children under 16! And I play lego system until 14! 🙂
It really help me to develop the logical thinking in my subconscious mind. And it indeed help me much when the first time learning programing structure!
Nice Toys!

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Lego Guy April 17, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Yes, I agree with this writer wholeheartedly.
In his book, The Roaring 2000’s, Harry Dent talks about the differences between the way education has been, that is, a top down phenomenon where students sit still, take notes, and regurgitate information, as opposed to a student first approach as with Lego.
With Lego, the person designs his or her own curriculum using understood ground rules. That way each student develops in the direction best suited to his or her learning style and skill level without holding others back or going too fast for the rest of the class.
Lego gets it right again.

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Lego Star Wars MTT February 1, 2012 at 3:18 am

I think that playing with Lego as a kid had a huge impact on my ability to think and problem solve.
Now as someone who works with kids, I can really see the difference in logic and problem solving ability between a child who plays with Lego and a child who doesn’t.

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