Not just another brick in the wall: Play-based learning with Lego

Asha Alexander

Asha Alexander is the principal at The Kindergarten Starters, Dubai, a GEMS Primary School, catering to 5500 students. She received her Master of Science in Educational Leadership from The Walden University, Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011 and she also holds a Master’s degree in Education and English from the Bangalore University in India.

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Image credit: Flickr // Hamid Image credit: Flickr // Hamid

Play must infiltrate the learning approaches in our classrooms. Surreptitiously, if need be, it has to once again steal into our classrooms and become embedded in our outlook, our approaches and strategies. Why do we advocate play? Play captures within it the elements required for building the right attitude to learning. Fearlessness, risk taking, taking loss and failure in your stride, working as a team and the joy and humility in success.

To begin at the beginning, we had to work with both our teachers and parents to make them understand the value of meaningful play. Lego was seen as colourful bricks meant for pre-kindergarteners or, at best, to be used as a pastime to satisfy creative urges. To get parents and teachers to accept this a legitimate learning tool was a difficult task.

We invested in Story Starters and Story Tales for developing vocabulary and imagination, building confidence and for working in collaboration with one another. The WeDo and MoreToMath kits enhanced the learning experiences for our Grades 1-5 in Mathematics. Currently our staff are engaged in action research with MoreToMath and the results are astounding. This has led the school to introduce two timetabled lessons where every child is able to use Lego to improve their English and Math in the Primary years.

Our experience with Lego has been so encouraging that we plan to invest further in resources to enhance Math and Science learning in the Early Years. When a student pieces together a creation, they are working from a mental image of the same, and in doing so is gaining valuable lessons in Mathematical concepts of ratio and proportion, of area, shape and dimension. Lego lends itself beautifully to collaborative work, with children working together on projects, respecting each other’s contribution and articulating their thoughts as they make their presentations.

Our older students also use Lego Mindstorms to build, program and make their own robots. Robotics was introduced to strengthen scientific and mathematical concepts. Two Lego years later our school has moved up to a Good rating at the DSIB Inspections and is gaining momentum. The TIMSS results saw our scores moving from 489 in Math and Science in the year 2011 to 549 in Math and 591 in Science in 2015.

Play is the beginning of inquiry, curiosity and wonder. Wondrous enjoyment and engagement in a relaxed environment. Unfortunately, we hurry play. We rush children into structure and rules. Three and four year olds must play and explore until they are ready for the next stage.

As children grow purposeful play evolves, with rules and structure which ensure that the play is now directed towards a goal or an objective that must be attained. When children are engaged in purposeful play, they can learn to invent.

One challenging step is loosening the reins, allowing the children the freedom to take risks and learn from mistakes. Children can and will develop strategies to cope with failure if only you let them fail.

Lego is our answer to that and it has transformed our learning and teaching at The Kindergarten Starters.

Do you use Lego in your school? Share your stories below!

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