Like most moms of young boys, at my household, we are obsessed with LEGOs. It’s such a delight to see my 8-year-old simply immersed into his wildest creations, so I took steps to deepen his process of learning through play, to effectively use LEGOs for homeschooling.
I wanted to talk about a recent project I’ve started in my (also very recent) journey into homeschooling. I can’t say exactly how this came to be but my son and I started doing little LEGO landmarks projects that have turned out to be such an entertainment for both of us! (Hint: We love The Lego Ideas Book: Unlock Your Imagination). This particular project requires a little bit of adult help, thus I’ve found it’s an incredible homeschooling activity. So it goes something like this:
1. Deciding on a landmark.
Google is our go-to and we start by searching for “wonders of the world”, “famous landmarks” or “best places to see” The process in itself is so much fun and informative! (Cannot believe I never heard of the colorful Chinese mountains of Zhangye Danxia before! Go look that up right now.) This part is basically us marveling at the photos we see and laughing about how we would go about doing that with our bricks.
2. Picking your landmark
After making sure to ask if a secret laboratory cave is a landmark (every time), he then makes his pick. It’s time to find out a little about it. There are a few questions I tell him he should look up to start off – basic info – but he usually has things himself he wants to know about and ends up looking for more. His sources are usually YouTube (with me looking over his shoulder), Google Earth and Street View, Wikipedia, and books around the house.
Questions are usually:
- Where is it?
- Who built it?
- When did construction began/was finished?
- What is it made of?
For the Golden Gate Bridge, which was the first project, I told him it would also be cool to know how long it is. [Note that I said “it would be cool to”, as I actively try my best not to make the whole thing sound like a school assignment, and forever taint his love for LEGO bricks. I’m lucky he doesn’t know about all these steps, lists and bullets. And he shall never read this!]
We looked it up and then I taught him how to use the directions feature of Google Maps so he would be able to see how long it would take to walk it/bike it/ride it, which is always fun to compare.
3. Look for other works
Once he has his info, we start looking at other LEGO projects of the same monument. There are usually a lot of ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s in this part as we look at the experts’ projects. We get real knowing we can’t really do half of what we see but we get ideas and solutions to structural issues.
4. Time to build
Finally, he gets to build! No timeframe or deadlines, just let him have fun with it! Sometimes he asks to go back to Google images if he’s stuck or asks for my advice on something, but mostly him doing his thing.
5. Show and tell
To finish off, he presents his masterpiece to me. No papers or computer or anything. Just him talking about what he did (showing me the secret chamber he built in his pyramid) and what he remembers from his little investigation. I also always ask if he can locate it on a map.
We don’t necessarily go through these steps in this order and I didn’t think of them as steps before putting it all down in writing. Sometimes we spend days just deciding what to do next, sometimes he interrupts construction for a while and comes back to it when he feels like it. We really don’t put any pressure on it and the whole thing just comes together wonderfully. However, thinking back, I realize that every time we use LEGOs for homeschooling, he works on:
- Geography, of course (I think he went through every single country before being able to find Egypt on the map)
- Research skills
- Math (a lot of it) – in distance, years, height, weight, dividing pieces, setting up…
- Planning ahead and sitting for at least 5 minutes to figure out the strategy before jumping in
- Talking out loud about his work and explaining his thinking/creative process
- Photography, to send photos of his masterpieces to the fam (Yes, grandparents, we do stuff!)
- Designing – Colors are sometimes limited. He didn’t have enough yellow for the whole pyramid, so designer mama was glad to see he incorporated orange in a beautiful way. A multicolor pyramid wasn’t going to fly by me.
- Computer skills
- LEGO skills, of course!
This activity has also led to interesting discussions on dates (and explaining B.C.E and C.E.), aliens, wonders of the ancient and modern world, time zones, precious stones…you name it. It’s beautiful for a mom to see the world come to her child through seemingly simple plastic bricks. The entire globe seems to rest on his work table.