Legos, Legos, LEGOS

This week, the children have been working with Legos. Legos are considered an open-ended material, meaning their transformational possibilities are nearly endless when a child’s creativity and imagination are applied. Because they have no pre-determined purpose or shape with a specific resemblance, they do not place parameters or limitations on what the child can create with them. Therefore, they make a perfect addition to a play-based and child-led environment.

We took the Legos to the light table, giving the children a different perspective of the blocks and allowing them to see how the presence of light impacts and intensifies color. Among the comments the students made, we heard them say that they were building “a truck” and “a train.” In the photos, you will notice the students lining up the Legos and stacking them to create different things.

Inside the classroom, the children shifted from their original technique of lining up the Legos to stacking them instead. In doing so, they explored factors like height and the physical, strategic process of stacking objects. The grasping, reaching and carefully placing involved in stacking and lining up the blocks engaged muscles in the children’s hands and arms, improving their fine motor skills.

During this time, we also sorted the colors and counted how many bricks were in front of the students. Some of the children even began counting the circles on top of the Legos. Sorting the blocks allowed the children to practice color recognition, classification and categorization. Counting the blocks reinforced mathematical skills such as number recognition and addition.

Along with the cognitive skills practiced in this activity, the children also built upon their social skills. They worked together as a team in conceptualizing and implementing the construction of their trucks, trains and other creations. In doing so, they learned to share resources and how to create one cohesive plan from the many thoughts and ideas of different-minded individuals.

Tracks with Markers

In accordance with our curriculum, we like to base explorations upon our students’ interests. Doing so allows students to take ownership of their learning experience and motivates them to dive deeper into, and better grasp, concepts.

In our classroom, it is very common for the students to circle tables or shelves with Legos and blocks, pretending that the materials are vehicles. The type of vehicle changes with every loop and turn. To further this interest, we placed a large sheet of paper on the table and attached skinny Crayola markers to edges of the large blocks.

Rather than circling the table with the blocks, the children chose to sit down and watch carefully as their movements made “tracks.” While making their tracks, the students used very large motions on the paper. Some even stretched themselves to the other side of the table.

Later that afternoon, we provided the students with small individual sheets of paper and attached the skinny makers to smaller, narrower blocks. Using smaller materials on smaller paper forced the children to use smaller movements and gestures to make their tracks.

This entire experience incorporated two primary aspects of learning and development- dramatic play and fine motor skill development.

Blocks are an open-ended material, or a “blank canvas” of a play material, coming to life as children apply their imagination and creativity. In pretending that the blocks are vehicles, and that the marks left behind are tracks, the children show an understanding of mental representation and symbolism. Not only is this a fun form of self-expression, but it also encourages creativity and serves as a milestone in cognitive development.

Fine motor skills deal with the level of strength and control a child has regarding their finger, hand and arm movements. By grasping, reaching and operating different tools, children build the muscles in their hands and arms and enhance their fine motor skills.

In this exploration, the incorporation of different block sizes provided an assortment of fine motor challenges for the students. With the larger blocks, the children practiced using their reach and stretch to make tracks. When using the smaller blocks, the children’s strokes were slower and more controlled. Each required a different set of muscles and a different level of focus and attention to detail.

Creating structures with blocks (Science, Math, Language and Social Skills)

The block area within our school environment is one of the most popular places of play for the children. They love creating structures using the many materials that the area offers.

One morning, we noticed some of the children gathering together in the block area. A large group of students formed and began working together to create structures. Their materials of choice were large Legos and small wooden blocks. They began creating ships, castles and spaceships. The children working with small wooden blocks explained that they were creating “a wall to block the bad guys.”  

While building their structures together, the children also built upon important cognitive skills as they:

-Counted the amount of blocks they used. (This shows how the children practiced their math skills through counting and sequencing.)

-Came across challenges when their structures collapsed or fell apart. (The children engaged in problem solving and exploring physics.)

Working with blocks instills a more thorough understanding of geometry in regards to shapes and space (two-dimensional and three-dimensional). Blocks also serve as a wonderful tool for creative expression, allowing the children to put their imagination to use in whatever way they desire.

The team element added extra value to this experience because it allowed the children to improve upon their social skills. Working as a large group encourages children to practice communication and foster new relationships. Teamwork, addressing conflict in a respectful, purposeful manner and understanding the value of each individual’s role in a group are all important skills learned as a result of experiences like this one.

The skills and themes introduced within group exploration are very valuable in our philosophy:

“Contrary to some orientations to skilled performance by young children, the Reggio teachers emphasize achievement in personal expression and reflection on one’s own patterns of thinking. Instead of an early push to read, for example, teachers support a competent ability to communicate with others through speech and other means, so that one can make a contribution to the group.” -The Hundred Languages of Children: the Reggio Emilia Approach to early Childhood Education

For an in-depth explanation of the value of block play and how it relates to our philosophy, click here.