More on our LEGO homeschool curriculum...
© Beverley Paine, January 2009
I remember a fantastic 'town' layout on the bedroom floor... all three of my children slept in the one room on high bunks (until our eldest was 14!) as our house was small back then. Space was at a premium but there was always room for LEGO layouts.
This town had a HUGE zoo. This was about the time that DUPLO began making animal LEGO. The zoo also had things like show rides - ferris wheels, etc. My children loved to replicate real life in LEGO form!
It is easy to see the across the curriculum learning happening when children engage in games this complex that last for days or weeks.
Writers like Tolkien and the Bronte sisters were reported as having spent large chunks of their childhood playing games in an imaginary world. I did the same thing: if I wasn't reading a book as a child I was continuing a story in my head, or playing elaborate games with my brother with matchbox cars. We'd use the same characters and continuously develop the story, like a series of chapter books!
The technical, creative and design skills that develop when modelling, even with small plastic bricks like LEGO, underpin learning in maths, physics, craft and technology. It's easy to introduce other elements: make tiny labels for LEGO shops in town centres in another language. My children built the typical old fashioned cages for their zoo, but a discussion on the changing nature of zoos and the reasons behind this soon meant changes to the layout!
LEGO in our home was far more than a few models that the children built and then displayed, or a box of bricks that came out occasionally. I remember when Thomas was about fifteen he and I built a floating table with LEGO bases that we could use to play cards on in the paddling pool during a sustained heat wave (we had a deck of plastic playing cards that stuck together when they got wet!)
Inspired by a LEGO exhibition Roger created a couple of amazing murals. The technical and design skill, and patience required, amazed me. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where the picture was in your head...
We found that the more basic bricks the children had the greater variety of things they could make and create with LEGO. For a while LEGO stopped selling boxes of basic bricks and suddenly we had oodles of wheels and specialist pieces... Not so good! Luckily LEGO saw sense and we could order bricks from their spare parts department.
I can't remember every buying LEGO at full price. We would wait until the sales - usually in October - when we could source LEGO sets at up to half price. The children would save any money they received for birthdays and Christmas and spend it on LEGO. Our house was full of toys which, when played with, would always end up as elaborate stories that lasted days: Slyvannian families and Barbie dolls meant building houses and furniture and making clothes, matchbox cars meant huge mines in the sandpit, or long adventures in the jungle (garden), etc. Rather than have a roomful of toys our children built collections of a few well chosen toys.
On reflection I think that this play in miniature worlds, rather than dramatic role playing (dress ups) probably reflected that there is six years between our eldest and youngest. In this way I think my children instinctively compromised and found a way to cooperatively play that satisfied most of their developmental needs. I used to worry that our youngest had missed out on the dress-up games stage of life, but a quick flip through the photos shows this wasn't the case. It's just that LEGO and small cars and small dolls seemed to dominate play most of the time.
We had two rules for playing LEGO (and any other toy). You don't start more than two games at once. If you have a game in progress, you can only start one more game, but to start another you must put one game away, even if that means destroying an elaborate layout that covers the living room floor! The other rule was that there must be a clear passage to each child's bed at night. This meant that I could kiss them goodnight or access them during the night if they were unwell or had a nightmare without tripping over or stabbing myself with sharp edged LEGO bricks!
Storage... mmm. We used LOTS of bookshelves and open trays, usually the trays from the LEGO boxes. The children would sit surrounded by these trays and build for hours. I would spend hours sorting LEGO bricks into different trays to make building easier.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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