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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Learning Through Legos: The value of play for all ages

I was recently relaxing with a group of friends on a Sunday evening. The weather had us cooped up, huddled inside for warmth in the below-zero-temperatures. Another friend arrived, carrying a big plastic tub which he set down in the middle of the room. As the lid was removed and the Lego blocks were exposed, we went into a frenzy. Space was cleared immediately to make room for construction. Ideas were suggested, different building teams were established and we dug into our work. With the arrival of the Legos we were transformed - “adults” in our mid-twenties quickly became thoroughly engaged children like those in Forest School. 

While building, deconstructing and rebuilding our castle I was also observing myself and my friends. It isn’t often that a group our age has the opportunity to work on a project like this, and even less often that the only goal is fun. What stood out to me as I watched and participated was the intensity, the planning and the cooperation that erupted. These skills are key to active community involvement. The important role of play as an applicable learning experience was being illustrated right in front of my eyes and hands. 

There was a lot of planning - we talked and gathered pieces before snapping blocks together. The resulting communication and cooperation was natural, requiring no effort as it flowed from us into our work. We offered pieces to each other that we thought might be helpful. We mined the pieces left in the tub, looking for that one hinge piece needed by a friend. We were open to suggestions, fluid about our own visions and driven as a cohesive group. As construction drew to a close, and we added Lego people to staff the castle, we slowly stepped back to see what we had created.

Being so immersed in play reminded me of the Forest Schoolers and how they must feel when they delve into free-play. In late fall, a fun morning of stick-play by the barn evolved into building an entire make-believe house, with sticks laid on the ground to mark walls and rooms. The students worked through the complex social interactions, figuring out how to divide resources and space fairly. The skills being exercised in group-play are essential. This is how we learn to work together, to be part of a community. Play is how young children learn it, and how older, adult “children” practice it.

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