Learning with LEGO

Learning with Lego is the name of a new book I recently bought to help develop Jenson's love of all things brick. It is titled as the unofficial guide but has become our Bible!

We've only tackled a few projects so far. The book arrived in the post the day before we left for Devon and I feel that in order to do the book justice we really need Jenson's complete arsenal. Saying that, it hasn't stopped us giving a few activities a go.

1. Straw Construction

This clever project encourages engineering and fine motor skills. It's an inventive way to use LEGO but one that really fired Jenson's imagination. Like anything you see in a book though, in reality, it wasn't straight forward. The straws are meant to easily slot over or into the holes of the upside down baseplate but ours did neither. Turns out, in reality, straws are exactly the same size as LEGO holes. So old muggins here had to carefully cut slots up each side of the clear plastic straws to enable them to fit over the holes and squish each end of the rigid stripy paper straws so they slotted inside the holes. Once that arduous task was over we were able to continue with the activity.  

Jenson got stuck right into the challenge and was soon chopping up straws to different lengths to create a spaghetti junction structure that was executed with brilliant precision engineering.

Wren on the other hand created a far more fluid and free flowing structure! It was fascinating to see how both children adopted different techniques to complete the task set. The fact that both structures reflected their personalities was no coincidence either. 

As the piece de resistance Jenson added a little LEGO mini figure to his creation and later even added a helmet to protect his head in case he fell. Jenson was so pleased with his creation he showed no shame in saying how he felt his construction was much better than the one in the book! I liked his confidence. To be fair, we did search high and low for just the right kind of straws. We trawled Ilfracombe high street but it only turned up some very dodgy looking fluorescent ones that I felt would clash with the LEGO bricks; not quite the class of straw we wanted. And so we drove all the way to Braunton where we stumbled across a brilliant little shop with some rather trendy straws. Clear ones would give a lovely minimalist feel and the striped red ones would add a splash of colour that would compliment the colourful LEGO bricks well. I was also keen to pit the two types of straws against each other: the clear ones had a bend in the neck and were much more flimsy and the paper ones were just straight up and down and as a result were much more rigid. You can see the difference in Wren's and Jenson's structures, with Wren opting to use more of the clear straws and Jenson more of the rigid ones her creation was far more flimsy. Again, a brilliant reflection of their two different personalities though. 

Our activity went off on a bit of a tangent when Jenson introduced a new component to his models: elastic bands. He loves collecting these 'hair bands', which he normally finds on the pavement and lucky for us he had found a whole heap of them on Ilfracombe high street. We stretched varying sizes of bands over LEGO pieces that we had connected together to form long lengths. Again, it encouraged fine motor skills, science, problem solving and engineering. The tighter the band stretched the easier it was for the LEGO pieces to break and so strengthening was required. He managed to create this structure though, even when the elastic band was at real tension:

2. Boats Experiment

This activity challenged Jenson to build a boat that could hold as many pennies as possible. I would have loved to have seen him build two or three different types of boat, but I was lucky to get this one out of him. Once he had built the boat, I filled up a shallow dish with some water and lined the pennies up ready for the experiment. 

In the book it suggests the pennies be loaded onto the boat one at a time, slowly and carefully. All these words are unfamiliar concepts to Jenson and he lumped them all on in one go: the boat sank.  

I suggested he think about the placement of the pennies and that he might want to try and spread them more evenly across the front, back and sides. Again, we still only got up to 10p worth of pennies before the boat sank again.  

Jenson then made an interesting observation: one of the LEGO bricks on the side of the boat had holes in it!! This was an engineering failure of epic proportion!

Once replaced with a more water tight LEGO brick we tried the whole experiment again. This time we got up to 14p!

Jenson really enjoyed this little activity; from making the LEGO boat to seeing Mummy pull out lots of shinny pennies to splashing around with the water. It was a brilliant exercise that encouraged him to use the skills of science, maths, engineering and problem solving. 

3. My Emotions

This free build activity has really helped Jenson to identify and connect with how he's feeling, something he isn't very good at. He can be just like a bad storm with massive mood swings that blow up out of no where. None of us, including him, can really understand them, we can only help guide him through them as best we can. 

Again, the joy of this activity for Jenson was building the LEGO. What's brilliant though is that it helped him to connect with his feelings. The first time he used the figure was to draw an angry face because he was upset that my brother had let him down and wasn't coming to Devon as planned. The second time he used the figure he drew a happy face to tell me that he had enjoyed  a nice day on the beach. A super nice way for him to tune into how he's feeling through a medium he loves. 

I plan to incorporate LEGO more and more into how Jenson learns, not only using this fantastic book but also using a tool called LEGO Education. It is a fantastic resource that is normally applied to schools but is by no means limited to them. Anyone can download the curriculums and purchase the learning packs. Watch this space!