You’ll have to excuse the alliteration with today’s title, but the words of love, Lego, learning and Legoland are all totally appropriate and necessary in explaining what today’s blog entry is all about. I am going to delve into the evidence base and psychology of Lego building later on in this blog entry (yes, really) but want to tell you about some fun we had first….

Yesterday, my wife and I took our two children to Legoland as part of our son’s Birthday celebrations. We have never been before and in the past couple of weeks have been receiving lots of excellent advice on how to make the most of our time there, and thus the day also became a mission for me to ensure we crammed as much in as possible.

We arrived in time for opening of the doors, having booked priority parking (a luxury we afforded ourselves as we had the tickets courtesy of cashing in our Tesco Clubcard points!) and the Q-Bots (more on these shortly) we got through the small queues to get in and set about getting our day underway. For those of you have never been to Legoland, we purchased 4 Q-Bots; these are little devices whereby you can book yourself in for a ride at an allotted time and when that time arrives, you just jump on the ride without queuing.

One tip we were told by lots of friends, was to get on the rides at the far end of the park earlier in the day while the crowds were near the beginning. Our two children wanted to do the driving – this is where they get to drive lego cars around a small lego village in order to get a lego driving license. So we booked that and started headed on over there.

I had downloaded the Legoland app and was following the map on there, which meant I spent most of the walking time looking at that and being unaware of my surroundings. The longer we were there, the longer we realised that more than half the grown-ups there were doing the same thing.

We had great fun at the driving centre…..

Our day proceeded neatly – me planning our next ride, booking it in via the Q-Bot, us then strolling past the massive queues, jumping on the ride, having a ball, then getting off and repeating this process.

I even actually booked one ride while seated on another ride that was right next door and did not require much walking. Here I am sat on the Fairy Tale Brook boat, booking us in at the neighbouring helicopters at Duplo Airport!

I got a bit bogged down with the planning to be honest. The kids benefited massively though, because we crammed a LOT in…..My wife jokes that I do tend to ‘get on one’ while we are at theme parks, and I have been known to march us around a bit from one ride to the next…. I am the guy in the yellow cap here, marching toward the next ride “onwards family! Look lively!

We went on the Atlantis submarine ride, the Dragon roller coaster and many more rides to boot. We slowed down a bit after a late lunch and spent some time lazily walking around the mini lands looking at all the different Lego countries and places of interest, the kids loved this, because it was Halloween, we were on the lookout for Lego ghosts that had been snuck into certain places too – we spotted a few here and there. Anyway, here’s a Lego submarine we were about to board to go and see Atlantis…..

We then headed over to the Lego Star Wars display, which was awesome – Star Wars and Lego, what is not to like!! The scenes from the films were fantastic, the music was great, and I got to get some light sabre action in with Darth Vader which rounded things off nicely for me.

We braved it and went to the Lego gift shop at the end of the day, which was ram-packed, chaotic and filled with kids with piles of boxed up Lego goodies in their arms. We just had to go with the flow, let the kids spend some holiday and Birthday money and we headed back to the car, pretty pooped.

We had dinner on the way home though with it being half term, were not concerned about the kids having a late night.

This morning, I came back into the house after my workout and my wife was at the kitchen table with our daughter and they were building Lego together. Our son was upstairs building his Lego City lifeboat and shouting downstairs about how well he was doing.

There are numerous benefits of playing with Lego. Back in 2010, the editor of the Psychologist even wrote an extensive article about his own love for Lego, how he uses it as a psychological tool and how Lego brings out the builder in all of us. Why we love Lego – leading psychologist reveals the ‘builder instinct’ is the key to the popularity of the toy.

Developmental psychologist Rachel Keen states that parents and teachers “need to design environments that encourage and enhance problem solving from a young age” (Keen 2011). Building blocks of various kinds (I’m not wanting to exclusively promote Lego, despite my love for it!) seem ideally suited to the purpose. Studies (referenced below) have suggested that construction toys such as Lego blocks can help children to develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, creativity, divergent thinking as well as maths skills. For me and my family, this is wonderful news – it is great to know that the toys your children love have the potential to be helping them develop and benefit in a number of ways, right?

The benefits we have noticed and experienced are backed up by studies that I thought I’d share today, they’re as follows:

1. Bonding time:
For me, I just love sitting with my children around the Lego table we have, with big pots of random bricks and we just have a project, and we build. We get to laugh together, we sometimes sing building songs, but throughout, we are building and spending lovely time together.

Later on in life though, as they get older and build with other children or friends, they learn how to work together as a team – especially if building something together. We watched some footage of the guys building the giant Lego Death Star at Legoland together and that needed some coordination and planing in the team.

When building together, children have to agree upon what they will build, what size it is going to be and will need to find the right pieces to use. Sometimes, there will be a clash of ideas and thoughts that will require to find agreement on too and this needs to be worked on in order to build anything.

2. Creativity Sparked:
When we are not building a specific model that has instructions and are just freestyling with our building, we have a theme and my son and I decide upon building flying cars or space ships together, we come up with some amazing creations. Some of which are totally off the wall and hilarious. The stuff that we build from our imagination is just wonderful.

When a child develops their building skills, as with any skill, continuing playing with bricks strengthens the skills. When we share our creations, we both get ideas about new creations that really gets our creative juices flowing. He sometimes builds things he has seen on TV and I draw upon my sci-fi love, for example and the creative fun is really stimulating and relaxing.

3. A developmental tool:
I have found a few of the longer Lego pieces broken and snapped in half in the big Lego pots in our house. And when I am not around to help pull some pieces of Lego apart, you know that they are being chewed, bitten and pulled apart that way. Let’s face it, though, it really is not always easy to get some of the fiddly bits together in the way we want. J

Building helps children (and apparently us grown-ups, too) develop their fine motor skills, which is important for all children, but especially important for our family at the moment as my children are learning to write and develop other such fine motor skills.

4. Advances Problem Solving:
We do love working through a project that has instructions here in the Eason house. However, as I think I’ve already got across with earlier points, Lego building is not about having all the right pieces so that whatever you are building looks like a perfect image of a box picture. It’s about using what you have got and being able to solve the problems of using pieces in a wide variety of different ways.

Psychologists tend to categorise two major types of problem. Convergent problems that have only one correct solution and divergent problems that can be solved in a wide number of different ways.

Because Lego can be constructed in so many different ways, it is divergent play. SOme authors believe this type of divergent play can prepare children to better solve divergent problems and start to think more creatively as previously mentioned.

For example, in one study, researchers Pepler and Ross (1981) presented toddler with two types of play materials. Some of the children in the study got materials for convergent play (puzzle pieces). The other children in the study were given materials for divergent play (chunky, block-like foam shapes). The children were then given time to play and when tested on their ability to solve problems, the children who played with blocks performed better on divergent problems and demonstrated more creativity in their problem solving attempts.

5. Helps With Patience and Persistence:
Some things don’t fit as we want. Some do not look as we’d wish. Sometimes, we read the instructions wrong and have to go back a few steps. In this way, we can develop patience to stay calm and not get frustrated, as well as the persistence to keep trying new things.

6. Developing Maths Skills:
I reckon most parents and children have similar language when it comes to lego blocks – we refer to “3-ers” – “4-ers” and those “square 2-ers” for example. However, this also has knock-on effects to maths skills.

Playing with blocks has been linked with math skills in some studies too. In a study by Wolfgang et al (2001 & 2003), how good children were at playing with Lego at the age of 4 had longer-term predictive power and better Lego skills were correlated with higher mathematics achievement in later school life.

A number of other studies have shown this too in children of various age groups; that good abilities with Lego building advances mathematical skills (Verdine et al 2013; Oostermejier et al 2014; Richardson et al 2014).

So we loved Legoland, and we loved it just as much as we loved Disneyland earlier this year. However, we also really encourage our children to play with Lego (though they do not need much encouragement) especially at this important developmental time in their lives, as it has so many potential benefits…. And because I LOVE it too!!

I may have to introduce a Lego table into my office to play with in breaks, it is a neat substitute for my mindfulness and self-hypnosis breaks, surely!

References and Further Reading:

Casey BM, Andrews N, Schindler H, Kersh JE, Samper A and Copley J. 2008. The development of spatial skills through interventions involving block building activities. Cognition and Instruction (26): 269-309.

Kamii C, Miyakawa Y and Kato Y. 2004. The development of logico-mathematical knowledge in a block-building activity at ages 1-4. Journal of Research in Childhood19: 44-57.

Keen R. 2011. The development of problem solving in young children: a critical cognitive skill. Annu Rev Psychol.62:1-21.

Oostermeijer M, Boonen JH and Jolles J. 2014. The relation between children’s constructive play activities, spatial ability, and mathematical word problem-soving performance: a mediation analysis in sixth-grade students. Frontiers in Psychology 5 Article 782.

Pepler DJ and Ross HS. 1981. The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development 52(4): 1202-1210.

Richardson M, Hunt TE, and Richardson C. 2014. Children’s construction task performance and spatial ability: Controlling task complexity and predicting mathematics performance. Percept Mot Skills. 119(3):741-57.

Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, Newcombe NS, Filipowicz AT, Chang A. 2013. Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Dev. 2013 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165.

Wolfgang CH, Stannard LL, and Jones I. 2003. Advanced constructional play with LEGOs among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Early Child Development and Care 173(5): 467-475.

Wolfgang, Charles H.; Stannard, Laura L.; & Jones, Ithel. 2001. Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(2), 173-180.