A Skill-Building Toy for All Ages
The word LEGO comes from the Danish for “play well”. Playing with this construction toy, with increasingly challenging sizes and numbers of pieces, promotes desired outcomes for children of all ages to master as they grow into creative, productive, caring and socially responsible members of their society.
Toddlers as young as ages 1 ½ to 3 can readily learn to manipulate and build with the 80-piece LEGO DUPLO My First Bricks set. As the youngsters explore the different ways the variety of pieces can fit together, they have opportunities to develop their physical, creative and critical thinking skills. Experimenting with how to connect the bricks in ways that prevent their constructions from falling over also helps to promote their spatial awareness and what it takes to make things balance.
The LEGO Classic Basic Brick Building Kit set with 300 pieces has smaller bricks and more varieties of pieces. Research shows that all children go through the same stages of development as they are growing up. Heredity, temperament and life experiences all have an impact on how each child makes progress in the different domains of learning.
Children also go through stages of development with block play, and will make progress at different rates as they explore using the LEGOS bricks from toddlerhood to adulthood. Here are the stages as described at the Fairy Dust Teaching website.
Stages of Block Play
Stage 1: Tote and carry (2 and 3 year-olds) – Children carry the blocks around with them or try piling them on top of each other
Stage 2: Building begins (3 years old) – Children pile the blocks on top of each other or lay them in rows on the floor. They may say they are building a house or road, or other familiar structures they see in their real-life environments
Stage 3: Bridging (3 and 4 year-olds) – Children begin to experiment with building structures that require the blocks to be connected in ways that create spaces, such as for door frames and windows. They begin to explore how to balance the blocks more proficiently as they add multiple levels to their constructions.
Stage 4: Enclosures (4 years old) – Children begin to explore how to use the blocks to enclose a space, which shows they understand ways to create environments that have an inside and outside. Examples would be a fenced area for farm or zoo animals, or a pool next to a house.
Stage 5: Representational building (4 and 5 year-olds) – Children begin to use symmetry, patterns, and designs in their block play. They require the dexterity and problem solving practice skills to figure out how to make their constructions balance.
Stage 6: Complex building (5 + years old) – At this stage children can make very sophisticated structures, and often want to collaborate with others in creating large environments such as cities, airports, animal parks, etc.
LEGOS in the Real World
In addition to basic kits, LEGOS has created kits that have themes related to movie sets (including its own), constructions of architecture found around the world, rockets built by NASA, and cars and robots that can have parts that really move, to name a few. The cost for the LEGOS kits is based on the sophistication of what is being constructed, and some are very pricey, but there is some documented evidence that knowledge gained while “playing” with these toys has real-life benefits for children’s futures.
LEGOS PROVIDES AN EDUCATION SITE
In addition to a wide variety of different models and levels of sets for both, toddlers and preschoolers, LEGO provides an education site designed to be useful for parents and early childhood professionals.
“LEGO® Education Solutions for early learning use play to open up the world of early math, science, and language skills for young children. Hands-on, engaging explorations with colorful LEGO® DUPLO® bricks ignite natural curiosity and foster a love of discovery and investigation, while playful faces, storytelling activities, and collaboration-based lesson plans for teachers help the youngest students develop social and emotional skills that set them up for a lifetime of successful learning.”
WAYS LEGOS BUILD SKILLS – WHY IT MATTERS
“The best Lego sets aren’t just the ones that will make your kids squeal with delight once they see the box. The true mark is how they put it together and how long they enjoy it once the initial building is done. Most sets give a blueprint with simple, step-by-step instructions. While some kids follow these instructions to the letter, others see them as guidelines and free-build their way to something completely unique.”
“The beauty of Lego is that you can do both: you can slavishly follow the set instructions, one step at a time, or you can chuck them aside and create something entirely new,” says Dr. Jon Sutton, a Lego enthusiast and the managing editor of “The Psychologist” for the British Psychological Society. “Some people bemoan the fact that the sets [are] more about building the latest movie tie-in than it used to be. I’m not sure I agree: it’s good for kids to have the opportunity to do both set and free-building, and in my experience they do. And when I see how my boys play with Lego — together, constructively, literally building on each other’s ideas — it makes all the money I’ve spent on Legos feel worthwhile!”
Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.