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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Original Learning - explained with LEGO

Lego is an open ended material that can be used in a myriad of ways... in my home and work I have seen constructions being made, artwork, stop motion films, math lessons, soap-making, small world play etc - lego is even glued onto the sides of shelves in my sons room and is a part of his furniture now!

Lego also has the potential to be a closed ended material if that is the only way to present it and allow our learners to interact with it. They must follow the instructions, they must complete certain tasks in a certain order, they must use certain pieces...

I feel that this is the same as teaching. Technically teaching is an open ended resource - we can go in any direction by responding to the play and development of the child. Instead the curriculum ends up being like the instructions in a lego set, with step by step instructions on how to build. The teachers end up teaching the curriculum instead of the child/ren.

I think the instructions in the lego boxes are useful.. they give the lego builder the chance to follow and create something that without the instructions they might not have been able to achieve. I have watched my children, especially my son who has been a big lego enthusiast, follow the instructions, page by page. A kind of slowing down. A way to read long before he was reading words. A way to understand consequences - if you missed a stage it impacted the construction later.. and you had to fathom out which page/step had been accidentally missed. So problem solving too. Techniques were learned as well as understanding the function of parts separately and together. All this knowledge could then be applied in his own free creations..

And this is similar to my thinking about Original Learning - that teaching is a valuable part of the process as long as there is enough time for children to process the learning through play and get the chance to be creative with the information and techniques that we share as teachers...

Imagine teaching as blocks of lego.

Each child comes to the classroom/setting with their own collection of lego and their own understanding of how to use them. Each child constructs. As a teacher we are providing the child with new pieces of lego to continue their construction, providing new experiences and strategies for the children to apply. We are also helping the children to make connections with each other - so that it is not a series of isolated constructions but a space of co-construction - sharing pieces and strategies, creating community constructions as well as individual, constructing links between them for ever easier access.. the educator is a part of this process co-creating and co-constructing with the children.

The teacher continuously having pieces of lego up their sleeves to be able to share at the right moment - to sometimes support the learning and to sometimes challenge it. Always with an understanding that what is being offered is neither too easy or too hard.. but is that sweet spot that encourages curiosity and joy in learning. If it’s too easy then the brain will not engage, as this is stuff that is already known, if it is too hard the brain will not waste its energy either in trying to do something that it is not ready for... that does not mean challenges have to be easy, they simply need to be set within doable parameters - that by extending and some exertion they can make it.

it makes me think of the roof of a playhouse that a group of my preschoolers desperately wanted to get up on to... at first their bodies were simply not big enough to physically get onto the roof. A year later they had grown and they had the height, they just needed to learn the strategy, which was easier for some than others... but I knew they would be able to be successful if they persisted. And they all were - those who managed quickly sharing their various strategies with those who struggled - my role was to stand next to them so they felt safe while pushing their own boundaries of what they thought they could do.

This is what I mean with the lego in the classroom - you do not want to be offering pieces or techniques before they have an understanding of other strategies that will enable them to fully comprehend them. Sometimes the page by page instructions to build a set lesson in the curriculum does not allow some children to fully digest and understand the teaching/facts needed to progress... and as the curriculum continues there is not enough time to go back and fix that page that was missed or put in the wrong place and the construction continues - with maybe more stages being missed because it’s impossible to add them to the construction because of that first missing or misplaced piece.

Original Learning is about providing the time for children to mess about with their constructions - to fully understand the engineering and architecture. To be able to start getting creative with it, test new ideas that extend the learning either by it working or not working and needing to rebuild.

Time to play allows the teacher to observe which children have understood and which children need more time or another strategy to learn. It gives the children time to process facts into knowledge and apply that to their play.

Play is learning - and field learning. But learning also fuels play. If a child is playing dinosaurs learning facts about dinosaurs will enhance their play - you can find out how they walk, even how they sound (there is a whole film available of scientists trying to work out how a dinosaur actually sounded!!!) you can find out what they ate, how they hunted, built nests, lived as families or flocks... all of these facts are like adding pieces of lego for the child to construct with. You don’t tell them which one to use or how it must be used - you provide the pieces and some options and then provide the time for the children to test them out and build theories and understanding.

We are not sharing random pieces, these are well thought out pieces that we know can support and challenge, add wonder and curiosity, stimulate the imagination and add to their knowledge and understanding of the world. Maybe sometimes we do share a piece that appears random, but it is carefully chosen to provoke the children’s thinking - to maybe make them pause and rethink everything they thought they knew - to maybe deconstruct their building and reconstruct it with this new thinking.

As parents and teachers of young children we want to make sure that the children in our care have the platform to build upon. Something stable enough and secure enough to build theories upon, to build high and wide, to dare to test new idea.

Children who do not have this stable base as going to struggle more in the constructions, no matter what pieces we offer them, so maybe we should slow down further and help them create a stable learning platform. This makes me think of the importance of Jools Page’s work on Professional Love. Children need to feel valued to feel safe and for most young children that is packaged in love.

In conclusion - Original Learning is the interweaving of play and learning as equal partners - of freedom and instruction - creativity and conformity. We need to conform to the rules of physics, of respect to our fellow humans, of the limits of our bodies - at the same time be creative to discover what is over the wall of conformity and what are the possibilities of the future?

If we do not have freedom/play then it will be much harder to be creative - as creativity needs time and space to flourish.

Here is a link to a site my autistic son started 7 years ago to share some of his lego ideas... he was 8 at the time and when he started he was not reading and writing, but dictated to me - eventually he started to write himself (he still is a reluctant reader and writer which means his vast knowledge is seldom accessed in school which depends on transmission through these mediums) it was an amazing thing at the time to see him so motivated to write... sadly school got so bad that depression and talk of not wanting to live put an end to his blogging days... today he is in a much better place thankfully

Below are a few lego images from Michael’s blog

Above the playhouse I mentioned in the text... not all the children were comfortable jumping off the roof and would climb down. And there were safety rules for jumping so that no one jumped on top of another person...

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Jun 28

By building and customizing your LEGO creations, you can enhance it by making it hands-on and interactive. Adding elements such as LEGO lighting kits makes the experience even more exciting and stimulating for students of all ages. These kits not only illuminate your builds, but also light the way to innovative and effective training.


laura newman
laura newman
May 30, 2022

Such an interesting read and love the lego analogy. Great to hear your son is finally doing well!

I have so many comments but I will restrict myself to the following: when you refer to the importance of creativity before and at the end of any teaching of discrete parts (I hope I am interpreting you correctly here), it reminds me of McGilchrist's interpretation of how the brain works. First we get a handle on something in our creative unknowing (right brain) then we focus in on it (left brain) then we return it to our creative imagination (right brain).

As you say, children need the instructions, but they also need time to relate to whatever is presented in their…

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