Arte em Pecas, Paredes de Coura, Portugal
A paid for editorial by Lego has been doing the rounds on Twitter today. It was written by Lego’s Marketing Manager, so it was hardly likely to be a critical piece. It had all the ingredients needed to wind people on the Internet up (which is basically how marketing seems to work these days). There was the obligatory reference to “21st century skills” and talk of all sorts of non research based/non traditional methods. For me, the irony is that Lego has been such an intrinsic part of my own children’s learning, that I am glad to write an article about the educational value of Lego, and I’ll happily blog it for free. After all, this is the product that won “Toy of the Century”.
In my kid’s bedroom upstairs are two large wheeled units, full of different kinds of Lego pieces. There are also two smaller units for the tiny bits. I don’t like to think about how many thousands of pieces of the stuff we have, nor how much we’ve spent on it. For about ten years in total, Lego was the main object of children’s play in our house and the main cause of foot injuries. (We seem to have moved onto Nerf Guns and Minecraft now, and thankfully Nerf Gun bullets are a lot softer.) I have always been quite teacher-y about how our Lego is stored. While I enjoy and appreciate the imaginative potential of the ‘big pile’ approach, I know the value of being able to find the piece you want easily when you are building something. When you sort the pieces, children also discover how to make objects out of a single type of piece – a mosaic out of single flat tiles or a sword out of blocks. There’s an artistic aspect to the way that you can work with the material, as well as an engineering one.
When your children are tiny, Lego is absolutely brilliant for building fine motor control. The act of picking up the pieces and joining them together uses fine finger movements, and it’s very repetitive. As they get older, they start to see how the twos, fours and eights fit together. It’s a visual representation of the 2, 4, 6 and 8 times tables (I’m told by my kids that Minecraft has this effect too). Children learn how to make strong walls by overlapping the bricks, and they start to think about how structures work. Minifigures are an endless source of fascination. Probably my favourite ever purchase was a chess set, each tiny figure faithfully turning the chess pieces into Lego people. Nathan Sawaya is among a growing group of what can only be described as artists or sculptors, working in Lego.
In a small town called Paredes de Coura, in the far North of Portugal, there is a festival each year called Arte em Pecas. It is organised by Comunidade 0937 (as soon as you spot what that 0937 is about, it’ll make you smile.) The festival is full of models built out of Lego – incredible pieces of artwork. The year we went, they built a massive cathedral and a giant mosaic during the festival, getting people to join in with creating them. There was a huge pile of Lego on a stage area, with comfy seats, and lots of children sitting there putting together different constructions. My kid wanted to make a mosaic, so I helped her find the pieces to build her sign. When she had finished, it was so good that the festival organisers gathered round, and asked to take a photo with her holding it. This kind of creativity is very inspirational for children’s learning – they can make something beautiful, interesting and high quality, simply by taking care and focusing hard. The repetitive action involved in building Lego is very soothing and it certainly takes perseverance.
Since this isn’t a paid for editorial, I have to point out that Lego should never ever have ‘girl themed’ their product, and I wish they had some way to mitigate the pain of stepping on the damn bricks. But, just like my daughter’s sign said, there is no doubt about it …