LEGO is the most famous toy brand in the world. However, LEGO is not a simple toy. Playing with LEGO can also have educational benefits for your children. So, are LEGO educational?
According to research, LEGO helps children develop many skills, including social skills, mathematical thinking, spatial ability, critical thinking, or problem-solving.
In this post, we are going to explain all the different skills that LEGO helps to develop, backing them with examples or scientific studies. After that, we are going to explain a bit about what LEGO is doing specifically to help with the education of children, based on the LEGO education program.
What are the skills that playing with LEGO helps to develop?
Here is a comprehensive list of all the skills that playing with LEGO helps to develop. We will go one by one afterward and explain them.
- Motor skills
- Social skills
- Mathematical skills
- Spatial ability
- Reading comprehension
- Problem-solving & lateral thinking
- Critical thinking
This is one of the most simple ones to understand. By playing with LEGO, children develop their motor skills. Why is that? Because children need to move bricks from place to place, fit the bricks in the specific spot, and apply the required amount of pressure in order to click two pieces together.
Even though this might seem very straightforward to adults, it is actually a very important skill to be learned and LEGO will certainly help in that.
Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that this is only a small part of the motor skills that a child needs to learn. There are other motor skills that will not be acquired with LEGO and other activities, such as sports, will do a much better job at it than LEGO will.
In addition to motor skills, LEGO will also help with developing children’s social skills. Why is that? Well, LEGO can be an extraordinary toy to share with other children and, buy playing together, children learn to collaborate, talk to each other, and help each other.
This very interesting study showed how LEGO was used as a therapy in order to increase motivation to participate in social skills intervention and providing a medium through which children with social and communication handicaps can effectively interact.
The results show how LEGO was even more effective than other more standardized therapies in order to help autistic children develop social skills.
But the results do not stop here, building LEGO together, which can also be seen as a cooperative project, is proven to improve peer relationships in middle school, as shown in this study.
So, overall, using LEGO to engage with other children will help develop the social skills of children and help them make friends more easily.
A few research studies have also shed some light on whether LEGO could improve the mathematical skills of children. Believe it or not, the studies are clear about it. LEGO construction ability (or any other construction play) is positively related to mathematics performance, as explained in this study.
So, by playing with LEGO and increasing the construction ability, the mathematical performance of your children is bound to improve as well. This is because children need to use some mathematical thinking in order to build structures with LEGO.
In this interesting article titled “5 Ideas for Teaching Math with LEGOs”, some interesting examples are given that could help your children in improving the mathematical skills. One of my favorites is teaching fractions.
For example, you can take an 8 studs brick and classify that as a “1”. Then, a 4 studs brick will be classified as “½” and a 2 studs brick will be classified as “¼”.
But the fun thing starts now. You can visually teach children how to add fractions by simply adding LEGO bricks. So, if you were to pick two 4 studs bricks and put them together, you would be taking “½” + “½” and putting them together. That would make a “1”.
The cool thing is that, by placing these two “½” together and putting them closer to a “1”, your children will be able to see visually how the fractions work. So, it becomes a tangible thing instead of only some random numbers on a paper.
The next skill where LEGO has an influence is spatial ability. What do we mean by spatial ability? Simply put, the spatial ability is the capacity to understand, reason, and remember the spatial relations among objects or space. It is a very important skill for professions such as Architects, many of whom trace back their interest in Architecture to the moment they started playing with LEGO.
So, this very insightful study explains how children were asked to construct a specific three-dimensional model using Lego blocks and were also given the Shepard and Metzler test of mental rotation. Those who completed the Lego model scored significantly higher in spatial ability than those who did not.
This makes total sense since, by using LEGO blocks, you need to think about how to connect them. You need to follow the instructions and create the same shape as shown in the drawings. This may sound simple to adults, especially for very simple shapes, but it is a skill that needs to be learned and, by playing with LEGO, children get better at it.
This is probably one of the skills that LEGO helps develop the most.
One might find it surprising that building LEGO can help with reading comprehension, but there are some studies that have found a significant influence on the reading comprehension of test subjects where the only difference was LEGO playing. This study highlights how LEGO construction play has a significant influence in enhancing mathematics and reading abilities.
The main argument is that thanks to playing with LEGO, children develop visual-spatial skills. These skills help, in turn, with both mathematics and reading abilities.
Moreover, it is logical to think that, by reading the instructions provided in the LEGO sets, children develop their reading comprehension. In the end, if a child cannot read or understand the instructions properly, the feedback will be very direct, with him or her not being able to build the LEGO set. So, by reading and following the instructions, children’s reading comprehension is bound to increase.
Teamwork is an invaluable skill, but also one difficult to measure in a scientific study. However, taking into consideration the studies already mentioned in the social skills section, one can see how these could also have an impact on teamwork.
Moreover, this study exploring the differences between cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures in promoting early adolescents’ achievement and peer relationships is quite conclusive.
Cooperative play, such as the one done when playing LEGO with other people, helps early adolescents with their achievements and peer relationships.
And what is teamwork if not cooperative play? Being a good team player means understanding the needs of the group and putting the success of the group over your own recognition. There is a lot of evidence suggesting that playing LEGO with other children (or any other cooperative play) will help children get better at that.
By engaging in collaborative play and building LEGO with other people, children will also improve their communication skills. These can be done by the simple act of having to reason through steps with other members of the team. The more clearly you can explain something, the easier it will be to advance in the common goal of building the set you are working on.
If you are a parent and are helping your children build their sets, you should try to engage them in reasoning their steps out loud. This will help them to develop their communication skills.
There are also specific tasks that can be done in order to improve communication skills that include LEGO.
This exercise proposes the following. One person builds a structure using toy blocks. In this case, it is wooden pieces but the same could be done with LEGO. Then, the structure is hidden from the other members of the group. Only one member of the team can look at it for a short period of time, and then it needs to go back to the others and explain the structure in order to recreate it.
This simple exercise will certainly help with improving communication skills since it forces people to explain themselves clearly in order to allow the rest of the team to build the structure successfully.
Creativity is one of the main skills that LEGO helps to develop. There are a lot of studies that have studied and proved how LEGO helps study, learn, and improve creativity.
For example, this study focuses on LEGO serious play applications to enhance creativity in participatory design, mostly focused around big businesses.
This other study focuses on teaching freshmen design, creativity, and programming with LEGOs.
And this chapter of a book looks at LEGO as a tool for supporting creative thinking, developing creative cultures, and contributing to processes that might make a difference in how the world works.
What is clear is that using LEGO can be an extraordinary tool for unleashing creativity. And, if you think about it, it makes total sense. Also, think about all the MOCs (creations that are not from LEGO, but from LEGO enthusiasts). They are basically taking LEGO bricks and creating a new design (or sometimes an improved LEGO official design). If that is not creativity, I don’t know what is.
What makes LEGO so good for creative thinking is the freedom in connecting all the different LEGO parts into any form you can imagine. It gives certain constraints (the sizes of the LEGO bricks) but with enough room to create something special about it. And, as you may have experienced, usually the most creative solutions come from the biggest constraints because those constraints are actually the divers of the creative solution.
Problem-solving & lateral thinking
LEGO is also an excellent tool for teaching problem-solving and lateral thinking. For those of you who may not know what lateral thinking is, it is basically the ability to solve problems by using an indirect or creative approach.
As with creativity, there are a lot of studies that prove the efficacy of LEGO in teaching students problem-solving. Most of these focus on LEGO Mindstorms, one of the sets that LEGO has specifically designed for educational purposes and which we will talk about more in the section part of this post.
For example, this study shows the impact of the course “Problem Solving Using LEGOs”, taught at Pace University of Pleasantville, New York, and New York City has on the pupils.
This other study explores the use of technological innovation to improve the
problem-solving skills of middle school students, whereas the “technological innovation” is the use of the LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Invention System.
This study also goes in the same direction, stating that the study demonstrated that LEGO robotics can be considered useful problem-solving tools in the classroom. However, they also indicate that careful teacher scaffolding needs to be implemented in regards to correlating LEGO with authentic problem-solving.
Overall, the pattern is clear. Playing with LEGO Robotics (more about this later) can help develop problem-solving skills.
What about normal LEGO? Well, according to this other study, playing with LEGO and teaching engineering design-based pedagogical methods can also help develop problem-solving skills.
Another important skill that LEGO can teach is critical thinking. Critical thinking is the analysis of facts in order to form a judgment. But, in this case, there is a specific type of LEGO that can do that, the LEGO Mindstorms.
In this study, the research focused on studying the impact of LEGO Mindstorms on the growth of critical thinking. The results are quite clear. LEGO Mindstorms has a measurable gain in student critical thinking.
How can that be? Well, LEGO Mindstorms is designed to practice STEM and robotics skills in a “near real world” environment. This more rational and mathematical approach can help think critically and analyze facts better than other more artistic or holistic approaches.
This applies more to teenagers than to younger kids, and we have not found any reference to support the statement that building LEGO bricks can in any way support developing your critical thinking.
This skill is also connected mostly to LEGO Mindstorms and the link here is even more clear. Because, in the end, having to program is built within the LEGO Mindstorms. With its meticulous approach to building anything, LEGO has managed to make that engaging while at the same time useful.
This study, for example, explains how, thanks to LEGO Mindstorms, ideas that were always explained abstractly before and that could, as a result, be difficult to understand, can now be presented with a physical model. This physical model can visually demonstrate concepts or ideas traditionally taught using abstractions.
How LEGO can improve planning skills is quite straight-forward to understand. This is especially true for more complex sets. The more complex a set is, the more important planning becomes.
So, to give an example, let’s imagine for a second the process to build a set with 1,000 pieces. This can already feel like a challenging task, but it is worth noting how proper planning can help speed up the process.
For example, you need to think about how you are going to separate your pieces before starting. If you have all the pieces together, it will take much longer to find a specific piece than if you divide them, say, by size. If you divide them by size, finding the right piece afterward will become easier because you will have them classified by size so you need to go to the right “bucket” in order to do so.
Even though the instructions of the new sets are extremely clear, which takes most of the planning out of your plate, a lot of planning is required if you want to create your own designs. In this case, you will understand how prior planning will dramatically improve the outcome of the specific creation you are trying to put together.
Another skill that can be learned by playing with LEGO is persistence. Why is that? Because building a specific LEGO set can become quite challenging. The bigger the LEGO set is, the more difficult the building process can become. This is especially true for the Technic sets, where a failure will become obvious at the end when the specific set does not function as it should.
With LEGO, children will learn that by working hard on something and persisting, extraordinary results can happen. They will learn that a problem or a piece not functioning is just a small stone in the middle of the path and that, by continuing to work on it and not desisting, they can manage to overcome any problem and become successful.
This is an extraordinary lesson in life and a mindset that all successful people have. Even though it can be acquired through many different avenues (studying hard for an exam and reaping the rewards afterward is another one), doing it so with LEGO will be effective and fun at the same time.
The last item on the list is not really a skill, but it is an important asset for succeeding in education and in life, so we think it is good to add it here.
This last characteristic can be easily connected with the previous one, persistence. By persisting and succeeding, your opinion about yourself will become better and you will feel much more confident that you can solve problems that will arise in the future.
In addition to this self-esteem more based on your ability to solve challenges, there is another type of self-esteem that comes with playing LEGO. In this case, it comes from the collaborative play that we already mentioned before in the social skills section. As already mentioned, this study explores how collaborative learning can improve peer relationships.
Because humans are social animals, by having better peer relationships, self-esteem will increase. This is because we need to feel part of a group or tribe so we can feel secure. This is wired into our evolutionary brain and it is something that LEGO will help achieve.
Now that we have reached the end of this list, let’s have a look at the toys that LEGO has developed in order to help with education in schools.
What is LEGO doing to make their toys more educational
As you may imagine, the fact that LEGO can help develop so many skills is not merely luck. Even though there is also a part of that, LEGO has also tried very intentionally to become a tool to learn and not merely a toy to pass the time.
In order to better channel that, LEGO created 40 years ago LEGO Education. As part of the LEGO Group, LEGO Education shares the same values and vision that LEGO Group does. But the focus of the LEGO Education section is on creating solutions that will transform the way that children learn.
This not only means educational toys, but also lesson plans and curriculum material, and assessment tools and teacher training and support. They are divided into three different levels, early learning, elementary school, and high school. Let’s look a bit at each specific part of this.
Early learning is where all starts. According to LEGO, they want to help prepare children for school and life with their creative intuitive solutions. Their aim is to build confidence and boost their natural curiosity for learning.
There are a lot of different tools available for early learning, which you can find following this link.
For example, LEGO has designed a specific set to help children understand emotions. This set invites preschoolers to explore emotions in a fun and engaging way. Building cards will help by supporting and inspiring the children to build different characters.
Another great example is the Coding Express Train. This set, with what they call “action bricks” will allow early learners to learn through play about things like sequencing or conditional coding. Each action brick creates a specific action, so students need to combine them in order to get the train to the destination.
Elementary School is the second level within LEGO Education. At this level, the aim is to provide engaging experiences to students while they explore core STEM concepts. The idea is that, by doing this while playing with LEGO, these concepts can be easily linked to real-life phenomenons.
According to LEGO, by following their lessons, primary students will:
- Learn to investigate problems and find possible solutions
- Build collaboration and communication skills while sharing their learning process with their peers
- Learn to see failure as a form of information gathering
- Develop an understanding of how parts work together to create a whole
There are also multiple tools that the teachers can use in their lessons. There is, for example, WeDo 2.0. This set includes 280 bricks, and sensors and motors. It offers multiple options for helping teachers explain to students abstract concepts with the help of tangible elements.
There are also Simple Machines. These tools provide students with a deeper understanding of science and engineering concepts. This is done with a set of 204 bricks and elements and by following a curriculum activity pack.
The last level is High School. Their learning package is supposed to stimulate creativity, critical thinking skills, collaboration, and communication. With these sets, students will improve their engineering design, scientific inquiry, and data analysis skills.
They have several tools that they can use in order to achieve that. The first one is the SPIKE™ Prime Set. This set will allow students to think critically and solve complex problems no matter their learning level.
Another set is one we have already mentioned in the previous section, the LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3. This set helps to build skills with a focus on Computer Science or Engineering to name but a few. With this set, students can experience real-world applications of Python, a language very common in Machine Learning. This serves as an excellent foundation to further explore Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence concepts.
Lesson plans and curriculum material
But LEGO goes further than just creating the sets and tools. They have also worked hard to provide lesson plans and curriculum material for teachers. They have more than 400 lessons aimed at different levels that will help teachers deliver fun and educational lessons. You can find them following this link.
Assessment tools and teacher training and support
In addition to giving the lessons and curriculum material, LEGO also wants to train teachers so they can deliver the lessons successfully and they know better how to do so. For this, they provide face-to-face training, global consumer service, and free online resources for support and inspiration.
All this will simplify the life of the teachers and ensure that they use the tools to their maximum potential. If you want to learn a bit more about this, you can have a look at the website by following this link.
And with this, we have arrived at the end of this post. During this post, we have described which skills children can develop by playing with LEGO and we have provided scientific research when needed to back it up. After that, we have explained what LEGO is doing to make their toys more educational.
If you enjoyed this post, you will enjoy “Is LEGO better than Playmobil?” where we compare the educational benefits of both brands.
If you are interested in any big Lego ideas, then check out this Lego Ideas book on Amazon.