I have heard on several occasions that when a person first encounters the educational research project originating in Reggio Emilia, their instinct is to throw away all their plastic resources and to only offer recycled materials and objects known as “loose parts” to children.
LEGO has always maintained a foothold in our own home, mainly because my husband has an avid interest in the architecture series and modifying technics kits. More recently, our son has developed a focus alongside his father, leading me to explore the benefits of offering LEGO to children in their early years.
The LEGO concept was born in Denmark and the name comes from the Danish words “LEg GOdt” meaning “Play Well” in English. Over recent years, the LEGO brand has dedicated time and resources to promoting itself as being one of the best ways to play and learn, seemingly linking their approach to common themes running through early years education.
LEGO education (https://education.lego.com/en-us/preschool/explore)
Children express themselves creatively and artistically while constructing the wonderful ideas from their imaginations. LEGO bricks automatically engage multiple children, inviting them to construct together; discussing ideas and negotiating roles. They use the bricks as a tool for thinking, communicating and developing an understanding and appreciation of each other’s ideas and contributions.
Exploring Social and Emotional Development
Children use the bricks and figures during play to try on different roles and explore relationships. This role play also invites children to work together to solve problems and to express and phrase themselves in relation to others. Ultimately building self-confidence and increasing awareness of the needs and feelings of others.
Introducing problem-solving skills
LEGO naturally inspires young minds to explore numbers, shapes and colours, and problem solving through playing together. Children learn to experiment by endlessly constructing and deconstructing their different creations. As they construct together, the colourful bricks and figures provide an engaging, hands-on way to understand concepts such as simple addition and subtraction.
Stimulating language development
Children learn about communication as they begin to express their thoughts and ideas. LEGO encourages this development and introduces basic storytelling by asking children to construct fantastic fairy tales and sensational imaginative short stories with bricks, characters and inspirational backdrop cards.
The extract above taken from the LEGO website offers a parallel to the hundred languages of children representing the endless potential of children, their ability to wonder and to inquire.
The hundred languages remind us that there are multiple ways of seeing and multiple ways of being. Perhaps LEGO can offer children new ways to see and new ways to be. It is certainly attempting to show children ways to think and to feel in a fun and inspiring way through the introduction of “Build Me Emotions”. Using these bricks, children must work together to build different characters – learning to recognise and understand emotions and identify similarities and differences in the process.
The LEGO Foundation seeks “to transform attitudes and behaviours about learning and play across society, working with parents, carers, schools systems, institutions and governments, with a focus on children aged 0-12, and a special emphasis on early childhood where children develop most rapidly, both physically and mentally.”
Since 1985, the LEGO Prize has been awarded to individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the lives of children and are champions of learning through play.
In 2015 Carlina Rinaldi, President of Reggio Children was awarded the LEGO Prize:
“We honour Carlina not only for her tireless dedication to children’s natural curiosity and growth, but for her contribution to ensuring that the schools in Reggio Emilia with Reggio Children and its innovative approach to education has reached out from Northern Italy and inspires people and organisations around the world,” says Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, chairman of the LEGO Foundation and owner of the LEGO Group. “We see children as our role models and we believe in child-centered, interest-driven learning environments. Carlina’s work exemplifies this and we look forward to continuing to support and follow her achievements in early childhood education.”
Perhaps the much loved plastic has a role in inspired Reggio practice after all.