How can LEGO therapy and block-building enhance learning outcomes for children with additional needs?
What is LEGO Therapy?
LEGO Therapy, an innovative therapeutic intervention, has proven to be a powerful tool in assisting children, and even adults, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and various communication and social skills challenges. Initially designed for children with ASD, its application has broadened, demonstrating its versatility and effectiveness.
Children with ASD often exhibit intense interest in specific activities or objects. Recognizing this, therapists specializing in play have long leveraged these passions to facilitate learning of crucial skills such as social communication and symbolic thinking.
LEGO building activities, in particular, have emerged as a highly effective tool in this therapeutic approach. Researchers have discovered that LEGO-based therapy not only captivates the interest of children with ASD but also fosters the development of social communication skills.
Play is an integral part of childhood, serving as a primary medium through which children learn and grow. Engaging in block play with LEGO bricks allows children to imaginatively explore and expand their understanding of the world.
Activities involving play, sports, social interaction, and observation are instrumental in nurturing communication and social skills.
Language skills are further honed as children imitate adults and familiar figures, practicing speech patterns and vocabulary. Organized activities or clubs, where children are required to follow instructions and collaborate towards a shared goal, provide additional opportunities for skill development.
LEGO Therapy sessions, led by trained facilitators, encourage children to work together to build models and solve challenges. In this engaging and fun environment, children practice communication, social interaction, turn-taking, and problem-solving skills.
As the renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget said, "Play is the work of childhood." LEGO Therapy embodies this principle, transforming play into a powerful therapeutic tool. A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that LEGO Therapy improved social interaction and communication skills in children with ASD.
- LEGO Therapy is an effective intervention for children and adults with ASD and various communication and social skills challenges.
- LEGO building activities are a powerful tool in therapy, fostering the development of social communication skills.
- LEGO Therapy sessions, led by trained facilitators, provide a fun and engaging environment for skill development.
How does LEGO therapy work?
Children with autism are sometimes initially hard to detect. They could be just like anyone else that you can think of. They could be the quiet type or the chatty type. They could be peculiar or aggressive, be good at school or be poor performers in school. It is important to know that you cannot take one symptom or action to suggest you have met with a child with autism spectrum. There should be an alarm only when the behaviour of a child really interferes with a child’s way of doing ordinary things making the child incapable of doing anything.
Autism in children makes them have a problem with their speech hence may experience social difficulties. Some may not be able to speak at all while others experience delays in speech. Some children may sound quite flat in their speech, or they may plainly memorize speeches from people around them. A child with autism may find herself speaking quickly or speaking the same thing repetitively.
Children with autism can also have difficulty in communication, and it may be detected in diverse ways. Their social interaction may be very poor in that they may be seen just preferring to line up or just spin objects. They may also not have a sense of when to stop an activity. Sometimes they may look and sound selfish or very passive. They may have a challenge in their social competence. This is one of the reasons why they may need a skilled therapist to help them with both verbal and nonverbal communication skills
Autistic children may also have a challenge of their senses. They may desire or evade loud noises, strong smells, or intimate hugs. They are also very sensitive to light, and they are distracted easily by small movements. They are distressed by funny sounds like squeaks or cries from babies.
We can sometimes notice quirky behaviours in children with autism. Even in play, there might be some very subtle differences. Unlike many other children, you might see children with autism playing alone but doing the same thing the other children are doing. That is parallel play. These children have a challenge in taking turns or collaborating with teammates. They are however very good in repeating patterns and routines. When imitating another child sing, they may sing the same way and do the hand motions the same way but asked to try a different hand motion may be very challenging for them.
Various types of play therapy endeavor to help children with autism overcome challenges by expanding communication, social skills, and imaginations through building on prevailing interests. Play therapists use a range of techniques to improve and enhance their activities instead of showing disapproval of children who continue with their repetitive activities. All this will help in building language as this will require the child to negotiate and work together with the therapist. Countless therapists have seen substantial improvement in language skills, social interaction, communication, and even physical skills through play therapy.
Lego therapy resources
LEGO building toys are extremely popular among children with autism. They offer a simple, anticipated, repeatable activity that can be done alone without extra help. These toys look and work in similar ways. They are also advantaged in that they require a strong fine motor skills and substantial hand strength, requiring spatial, visual, and logical skills.
Having essential value in the wider world (LEGO play is worldwide and LEGO models and structures have become well-recognized also as art forms.) The idea when it was started was to have an operational social skills program that could be used in many settings and be transferable to real-world peer interactions.
While there is a diversity of behavioural and developmental means to the therapy, most use the same techniques for preoccupying the children and requiring them to build skills in order to accomplish their play-related targets. The actual goal is to build the varieties of skills that can help children engage in a better way with their peers, share experiences and work together.
Though children with autism may find it puzzling to grasp what they are expected to do in a social situation they are able to comprehend when LEGO activities come to play. This is because LEGO therapy comes in a structured way where each person is assigned what to do in the group. This makes children with autism feel relaxed and peaceful as they enjoy doing what they love to do.
Lego Therapy Targets for children
In a traditional LEGO Therapy scenario, each child takes on one of the four roles below:
- One oversees reading and dispatching the instructions. He must tell the Supplier what pieces to recover then tell the Builder how to build the model. He is known as the engineer.
- The correct LEGO pieces have to be found by the Supplier who acts as the supervisor. He must pay attention to the Engineer and figure out what to retrieve, and the pieces should then be given to the Builder.
- The Builder is in charge of overseeing the building of the model. He must listen to instructions provided by the Engineer and whatever is retrieved by the Supplier should be handed to him.
- The foreman supervises everything and makes sure everything is running well. His objective is to make sure that the project is complete. He gives much needed assisted in any social challenged area and also helps in solving any arising problems. He is also known to encourage the workers so that they do not give up by complimenting them as they work.
This format provides the children involved with skills that include language skills in the process of taking and giving instructions. The negotiations, turn-taking, sharing, and getting involved in the interactive social problem-solving helps them to reflect on their own engagements. However, children who are likely to benefit from LEGO therapy should be able to follow simple instructions. In LEGO therapy, a facilitator works with the group of children as needed to encourage them to solve their challenges, help them communicate and help them get involved.
Sometimes, speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, or even psychologists work together, using LEGOs to build motor skills, enhance social communication and facilitate speech. The therapy can also be expanded to inspire creative play and teamwork through dramatic activities, storytelling, and innovation. For example, one version of LEGO therapy has children team up to build forms of a pretend world told in a story.
Building and learning from blocks
At Structural Learning, we have been developing our own therapeutic brick building concept. This approach is not just aimed at autistic spectrum children but deeper learning outcomes in general. We know that building from blocks is a fundamentally creative activity that children engage with. We use these building toys to help children organise information and make conceptual connections.
The building process becomes an outward projection of the mental learning process. The basic idea is to help learners see patterns in information, the brightly coloured bricks can be used to break ideas down into easily digestible chunks.
The teacher then provides building instructions that pupils follow to achieve their learning goals. Ultimately, this type of learner-led approach puts thinking into the hands of every child. For the last two years, we have documented the best-practice approaches to this type of pedagogy. Our blocks are based on the basic idea of Lego bricks but allow students to write their ideas into the blocks. You will find many examples of how this type of approach can be used in different education settings. Please do get in contact with us if you would like a demo of this approach to see how it could work within your context.
Exploring LEGO-based therapy resources
There is no one specific type of therapy that is always successful for every child with autism, and much depends on the chemistry of the facilitator and the therapy group. Some children will come away with improved skills, while others won't. LEGO therapy programs will help your pupils build social competence skills and possibly significant friendships built around common interests. LEGO therapy is founded on risk-free and effective therapies.
Lego therapy is a fantastic tool for teachers looking to help students with social communication difficulties and improve their social skills.
In primary school classrooms, LEGO therapy interventions can be particularly effective. They offer students the opportunity to work together on a fun and engaging task while also practicing valuable social skills such as turn-taking, active listening, and problem-solving.
To implement Lego therapy in the classroom, teachers can use a variety of resources including step-by-step guides, lesson plans, and activity booklets. These resources provide educators with everything they need to run successful Lego therapy sessions and facilitate social skills interventions.
When using Lego therapy interventions, it's essential to establish clear learning goals for each session. For example, teachers may set goals for communication, cooperation, or problem-solving. This helps students understand what they're working towards and provides a framework for positive interactions.
Overall, Lego therapy is an excellent resource for teachers looking to support students with social communication difficulties in the classroom. By using these interventions, primary school educators can help students develop important social skills and improve their overall learning experience.
As with any social development program, there would be an initial financial and time outlay but otherwise, there are many positive outcomes if your student:
- Is stirred to build social relationships with peers.
- Can change his/her set of ideas without getting upset emotionally.
- Has shown some social competence when playing
- Can follow verbal instructions
- Enjoys to actively building models with LEGO
- Can easily interact with the other children in the group.
Lego Therapy Training
There are numerous organisations offering training courses in LEGO therapy for educators and professionals working with children with special needs. These courses provide participants with the knowledge required to implement LEGO therapy in their schools and institutions. Participants learn about the theory behind LEGO therapy, the practical application of LEGO therapy, and how to integrate LEGO therapy into existing programmes.
LEGO therapy is based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which has proven to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders such as OCD, phobias and panic attacks. CBT focuses on changing thoughts and behaviours that lead to negative emotions and dysfunctional behaviour. It teaches people to identify and challenge irrational beliefs and faulty assumptions that may cause emotional distress.
The LEGO therapy programme was developed by Dr. Richard J. Davidson who is a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has studied the effects of meditation on brain function and found that meditation produces measurable changes in brain wave patterns. His research shows that meditation increases the ability to focus attention and reduces stress levels. In addition, he discovered that meditation also increased the speed of neural transmission between neurons.
Classroom Ideas for using Lego Therapeutically
LEGO, beyond being a beloved toy, has emerged as a powerful tool for autism therapy and a means to enhance a range of communication and social skills. Here are seven innovative ideas for primary school practitioners to incorporate LEGO-based Therapy sessions into their classrooms:
- Team Building Projects: Assign LEGO building projects to small groups of students. This encourages collaboration, communication, and problem-solving as they work together to complete the project.
- Storytelling with LEGO: Encourage students to create scenes or stories using LEGO bricks. This can help enhance their imagination, narrative skills, and ability to express their thoughts and ideas.
- LEGO Math Activities: Use LEGO bricks to teach mathematical concepts. For example, different sized bricks can be used to illustrate fractions or to teach addition and subtraction.
- LEGO Science Experiments: Incorporate LEGO into science lessons. For example, students can build bridges or towers and test their stability, fostering their analytical skills.
- Role-Playing with LEGO: Use LEGO figures for role-playing activities. This can help students explore different social situations and emotions in a safe and controlled environment.
- LEGO Art Projects: Encourage students to create art projects using LEGO. This can help enhance their creativity and fine motor skills.
- Mindful LEGO Building: Incorporate mindful LEGO building sessions into the school day. This can help students focus, relax, and be present in the moment.
A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that LEGO Therapy improved social interaction and communication skills in children with ASD by 70%. These classroom ideas aim to leverage the therapeutic potential of LEGO to enhance learning and development in primary-aged children, particularly those in KS2.
Concluding thoughts about LEGO Therapy
You would like to give LEGO therapy a shot? First, it is advisable to have a conversation with a therapist/educational psychologist to clarify what their goals are, what the mix of children is like, and what their therapeutic approach consists of. Have the therapist evaluate your child to decide whether they are ready for this form of play therapy. You could request your child to participate for a trial period in case you are sure about the whole thing. If financial resources are scarce, you could always use other branded bricks with a little help from Google.
We know that children have been playing with blocks for centuries, and this fundamental play activity can be put to good purpose in educational contexts. There is a subtle difference between 'playing' and being 'playful'; what we are doing is giving children permission to try out new days without worrying about failure. This relatively risk-free activity can be put to work across different cohorts with fairly little investment in specialist programs. So go on, what are you waiting for, give building a go and use your favourite childhood play activity for educational purposes.
The LEGO Group. (n.d.). The LEGO Group History: https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego-group/the_lego_history
LeGoff D, Gomez De La Cuesta G, Krauss GW, et al.LEGO®-Based Therapy: How to build social competence through Lego®-Based Clubs for children with autism and related conditions. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup
Lindsay, S., Hounsell, K.G., & Cassiani, C. (2017). A scoping review of the role of LEGO therapy for improving inclusion and social skills among children and youth with autism.Disability and Health Journal: