Thursday, June 24, 2010

LEGO and Literacy (1)


A liberal sprinkling of LEGO

Lazy son left it lying like a knobbly carpet trap

At 3am he calls out with a nightmare

Going to comfort him, I yowch at every step.

One of the things I loved when my son was young was LEGO. Well, not treading on the bricks with bare feet in the middle of the night. Yowch is right! No, what I loved was watching my son's imagination soar while he built with LEGO. My very favorite set was Fabuland, which you can see in the picture above (public domain).

But LEGO is just a toy, right? What does LEGO have to do with Literacy?

I think some toys contribute a great deal to children's literacy skills. I riffed on this theme in Use Puppets to Encourage Literacy and Using Toys as a Springboard to Literacy. Let's look at what LEGO might contribute to your child's literacy and learning.

Do a search on Amazon and you will see a range of books inspired by LEGO. Your local library will likely have titles in the nonfiction section. Keeping LEGO instructions inside plastic loose-leaf folders is a great way to preserve them AND encourage their use as reading for enjoyment.

As well as the actual functional reading and following directions if your kids use instructions booklets before they build, they are organizing, planning, concentrating, and persevering. Sometimes they will be communicating with a friend or parent about their structures. Often they will critically or creatively solve problems. Creative and critical thinking are important not just in literacy, but numeracy, science and also other areas.

Some LEGO/DUPLO bricks had the letters of the alphabet on them, so kids could use them to make words and play word games. I thoroughly recommend these as an addition to your literacy tool bag. They will "stick" to a base board, but you can use them without. If you can't find them, make your own by sticking card letters or writing on plain DUPLO bricks.

Older kids might be ready to move on to some of the fantastic robotic and science materials LEGO puts out. Whatever they build, at whatever age, there is an amazing amount of thinking going on.

If you want a closer tie to literacy, consider relating LEGO bricks to a book you've shared: what sort of house would Witchy Woe live in? what kind of vehicle would Fred Sked drive? If your child loves LEGO but isn't so enthused about reading yet, consider building on his interest. Look for those LEGO library books and instruction booklets, and delve into the wealth of material online, so he can read about LEGO and maybe communicate with other enthusiasts. There's lots of reading available at the LEGO website, too.

If your child is a LEGO fan like me, here are some ideas to extend his/her interest.

Be inspired on Youtube. Mine these videos for ideas that might generate more building, or encourage kids to create their own stories or movies with LEGO.

The Highwayman (classic song sung by Willie Nelson and friends, re-enacted in LEGO)

Finally a Lego Pirate Movie
(vid made from LEGO game clips)

Star Wars Final Fight in Lego
(This is actually quite amateurish, but we are all amateurs when we start. I think it's good for kids to see what other kids can accomplish. Watch for interesting spelling in opening titles!)

Click, A LEGO Short Film

THE SIMPSONS intro lego style (made by a 13-year-old)

Kung Fu Fighting Music Video in Lego

Grease - Summer Nights Lego Stop Motion Animation
(The creativity and patience involved in making these stop-motion movies from LEGO characters is amazing!)

LEGO Universe - a sneak peek from Mashable.

A massively-multiplayer rendition of the world of LEGO comes to the PC, in which you can adventure through multiple worlds and build your own environments with friends and family.

Be inspired on Flickr. There are great pictures of LEGO models.

Check out the LEGO steam punk pool

Crawler Town

Steam Strider

Be inspired on other sites.

Build with digital LEGO bricks on your own computer. This is a download.

Family Building Activities - free pdf with lots of fun games to do with LEGO

Here's LEGO at the Zoo

Here is a computer built of LEGO. If terms like "polynomials" and "31 digits of accuracy" terrify you the way they do me, skip this page.

Check out Nathan Sawaya's The Art of the Brick. What a way to combine LEGO and art!

If your kids are really into LEGO, be sure to check out the LEGO website with them. There are games to play and constructions to view. These might give them some ideas for their own creations.

LEGO Make and Create World Builder Game

LEGO Make and Create Junkbot Game

One favourite LEGO activity of mine for stimulating mental activity is Creative Builder. Some might say this takes all the fun out of manipulating actual physical bricks, but I think it's a useful extra activity and a great way to help your kids move to a more abstract way of thinking. Sometimes we just don't have access to our bricks anyway. After you pick a player, you choose to free build, plan build or speed build. Plan build presents kids with a design to copy, which they do by drag and dropping digital bricks onto an outline. Speed build times them building the same models. Free build they can create their own.

There are professional quality movies and cartoon movies at the LEGO Star Wars website.

You'll also find ideas for using LEGO to teach Maths and Science.

Here are educational activities from LEGO's own website You can search for free activities according to age and other categories using their search engine.

Phew! If you're not LEGOed out, link to LEGO and Literacy (2) where I describe some specific ideas for kids' own writing based around LEGO. 

© Susan Stephenson,


  1. Dawn Riccardi Morris25 June, 2010

    Love this post, Susan! It's a great reminder that there's important learning going on when children play. From randomly putting pieces together, to reading and following written instructions on how to create all kinds of figures and structures, there's so much value in the Lego. Now you have me thinking about spatial skills and math with LEGO! Maybe I'll incorporate it into my math theme for the next issue of Literacy Lava.

  2. Paula (Belgium)25 June, 2010

    What a nice post to relate a toy (Lego) to literacy. If I had to pick a toy that does this job for my child it is Schleich. The elves are from The Lord of the Rings and all the odd creatures walked away from the movie-set of Narnia.
    I know I do not buy TOYS, but TOOLS to play out books.

  3. Kelly Be A Fun Mum25 June, 2010

    LEGO! I LOVED PLAYING LEGO! My sister and I would spend hours on Sunday afternon, creating castles and fighting wars. Now, my children are enjoying the eperience lego provides. I love how you've incorporated play with literacy.

  4. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    Great idea, Dawn!

  5. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    I don't know Schleich, Paula, but am off to check it out. It sounds delightful! And I love your description of toys as tools to play out books.

  6. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    I think it's great for kids and adults too, Kelly!

  7. Hi Dawn,
    Have a look at this site
    It allows you to create your own lego-like character which you could then use a character/s for writing activities.
    Thanks for all the great ideas you share.

  8. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    That's what I'm basing LEGO and Literacy (2) around jdowling! I love it and thought it warranted its own separate article.

  9. Lori Calabrese25 June, 2010

    We were just playing Legos today! I also just fell in love with the book, I LEGO N.Y. by Christoph Neimann. It's an imaginative look at life in New York City constructed entirely out of LEGOs. Too Cool!

  10. LEGOs are a universally loved toy because of the way they let a child's imagination soar. These are wonderful suggestions for connecting LEGOs with literacy.

  11. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    I googled it and found his site, Lori I can see why you're taken with it!

  12. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    Thanks, Kelly!

  13. Book Chook25 June, 2010

    I thought I didn't know Schleich, but as soon as I found the site, I realized I do. They are beautifully made models, detailed and sturdy, perfect for little hands. I've seen them in our local toy store and played with them too. The website even has play worlds which are interactive games

  14. Ian @ Tidy Books25 June, 2010

    Wow. Look at all those Lego links. We love Lego here. I even had some for my Birthday, box said 4 - 7, so I put a 3 in front of the 7. But it is fantastic stuff, and if it can be used to encourage literacy all the better.

  15. Book Chook26 June, 2010

    I hope there's some links there you can use Ian!


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