Many parents and guardians are now coming up with ways to keep kids entertained while they’re at home in lockdown, and also learning even though schools are shut to the majority of children. Of course, that’s not an easy task but thankfully there are lots of online resources at our disposal from virtual dance classes to free audiobooks.
Another solution to quelling boredom, of course, comes in the form of the toys children have at home, but did you know that one popular item – LEGO – has many more uses than you might have first realised?
Cue Kate Winter, director and co-founder of Master Builders Club, a business which hosts curriculum-based LEGO workshops in pre-schools, nursery schools and primary schools as well as local village halls in the capacity of private parties.
Speaking about the benefit of children using LEGO, Kate said it’s “an incredible tool for developing children’s cognitive and fine motor skills. Along with sparking excitement, promoting creative play and encouraging problem solving, the product encourages a natural love of discovery and investigation.
"At Master Builders Club we regularly observe how the toy ignites children’s curiosity and provides a calming play experience in a busy world that is now focussed on technology and computer games," she added.
We asked Kate for her tips on using LEGO creatively in fun games as well as in activities that promote teamwork and problem solving, and even within home schooling lessons. Here's what she had to say...
Don’t just follow instructions
Master Builders Club focusses on allowing kids to build using their imagination, rather than following instructions on kits, and Kate, who’s a mum of three boys aged 10 and under, feels this is something that should be encouraged at home, too.
“Building from their own imagination gives children a lot of confidence because there are no winners, there’s no ‘best model’ – they are just building what comes into their mind,” Kate said.
“This week I’ve read the Julia Donaldson story Tiddler with my boys, and then tied to that, we created a coral reef on a LEGO base plate using our LEGO bricks,” she said.
“In our workshops, we give the children a little bit of stimulus with the story and it's amazing how quickly that ignites children's curiosity.”
Play games with LEGO
Aside from linking LEGO to story time, there are lots of uses for the bricks, Kate explained.
“It’s not just about building models, there’s so much you can you with the bricks in terms of games,” she said.
“In the garden we’ve done LEGO and spoon races.
“We’ve used a big flat base plate as the basis for mazes made out of bricks that marbles can travel through.
“We built a tower and inside was an egg with some chocolate in. My children took it in turns to take bricks off and whoever got to the bottom first won a prize - a bit like pass the parcel,” she said.
“Me and my boys have recently done self-portraits. Also, everyone’s drawing rainbows at the moment and putting them on their windows so we did LEGO rainbows,” she added.
You don’t need a huge collection of bricks
If your at-home collection of LEGO is only fairly limited, that’s not a problem, according to Kate.
“You'll find when children build from their imagination, they don't require as much. If they're building a kit and they see specific pieces on a page, they're going to want to have those pieces and if you don’t have them it can lead to frustration,” she explained.
“When you put a bag of bricks down and say: ‘Today we’re making a space ship’ it’d be unusual for a child to say: ‘But I really need this piece and we haven’t got it.’
You could pick 10 or 20 pieces out and say: ‘What can you create with those? Show me what you can do with just a few bricks.’”
You can use LEGO to develop important skills
Whether its fine motor skills, teamwork or problem solving, LEGO can help to develop children’s abilities – and it’s something Kate puts into practice at work and at home.
“We do another game called the chopstick challenge where you have to move bricks from one bowl to another using some chopsticks. If you don't have chopsticks or that’s too tricky, my youngest son used some kitchen tongs, or if they’re really young even just using a teaspoon works. It’s all about developing their fine motor skills,” Kate said.
“Another activity that’s great for teamwork (if you’re looking after multiple children) and problem solving is to set a challenge of building a bridge across two points in your home.
“Say: ‘We need to get the master builder mini figure from one side of the kitchen to the table.’ Discuss how you think it's going work or what might be an obstacle. Maybe get them to draw a plan and decide who's going to be the designer, or chief builder. See how they communicate,” Kate said.
This can be adapted depending on how many bricks you have. If that’s not a lot, Kate suggests putting two chairs close together and creating the bridge between them.
“You could colour in some paper blue and put that beneath it as the water. Children can really immerse themselves in a LEGO activity, we find. If you tell them that your kitchen floor is now the ocean and there are sharks in there and they need to get the mini figure across safely, they lap it up and seem to really engage in it.”
Include LEGO within home schooling
Kate feels that including LEGO building into the teaching of topics on the school curriculum is a great way to keep kids interested in the subjects they need to learn about.
For example, if you were teaching about the natural phenomena of the earth, you could build a volcano after learning about how they’re created and how they erupt.
“If you have more than one child let them build together, if there’s only one child, you could help them. When we do this build in workshops we puts kids in groups of three to four,” Kate said.
“For some children it might be difficult for them to visualise what they’re aiming for, so a quick Google search will bring up builds other people have done and act as a prompt.
“Once built, we put a jam jar or plastic pot inside the volcano, add a little bit of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and little bit of red food colouring so it all fizzes up and looks like it’s erupted – children just love it. For kids it brings the learning to life,” Kate said.
Be ready to ask questions
“You will always get some children who come to you 10 minutes after you set the activity and say they’re finished. That can be frustrating to parents when they've previously thought it might take them an hour,” Kate said.
“In this scenario, I’d suggest asking them to tell you about their model and explain the ideas behind it and the pieces they used. Never assume, because what you think is a flower is actually a castle - children see things differently. Let them really tell you about it then make suggestions.
“If they’re building a space rocket you could say: ‘But where’s the astronaut going to sit? How’s it going to get to planet LEGO quickly? Do you need to put some boosters on it?’
“Children will instantly run off with their model and make additions. It’s just being ready to extend the activity,” Kate said.
That said, it is a great activity for parents and guardians to get involved with, too.
“It's a lovely toy for parents and children together. I think most adults have fond memories of playing with LEGO themselves, so it's a nice intergenerational activity,” she added.
For more information about Master Builders Club, visit its website.
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