“Lego Social Club?! Wait – so you’re sitting around playing with Legos together? How does that help social skills?!”
That is a common reaction when adults hear about my new lego social skills group. But the best kind of therapy is when it’s so much fun you don’t even think of it as learning. Kids learn best through play, and when they are engaged in something that interests them.
When you say “social skills,” what are you talking about?
“Social skills” is a popular buzz-phrase these days, but what does it really mean? When I talk about social skills, I am thinking about:
- a child’s ability to accept differences;
- their ability to ask for help;
- the ability to communicate clearly;
- the ability to complement others;
- the ability to encourage others;
- the ability to disagree politely;
- the ability to follow directions and listen actively to others;
- the ability to resolve conflicts peacefully;
- the ability to stay on task;
- the ability to take turns;
- the ability to take (calculated) risks and allow oneself to be vulnerable;
- the ability to wait patiently.
What is Lego-Based Therapy? Is it a real thing?
The Lego Serious Play and Lego-based Counseling models are cutting edge techniques for engaging kids (and adults!) in problem-solving, communication, executive functioning, and knowledge sharing. The facilitator poses a question or a problem to be solved, and the participants create a 3D model in response to that question. We create stories and role-play scenarios, using our models as a jumping-off point. Participants leave with an increased sense of self-confidence, improved communication skills, and ability to hear the opinions of others and give others constructive feedback, and the ability to see the world through another’s eyes.
As the group leader, I facilitate the building process by giving each child the tools for successful construction, offering help and support where appropriate, but I do not control the finished outcome. The emphasis is on the process rather than the product. The goal is to make sure each child feels safe and secure in a session, that they are seen and listened to, and that they are given opportunities for meaningful conversations in order to build positive relationships.
Okay… but what does a session really look like?
We always begin with a “warm-up.” This usually consists of a “feelings check-in,” where each child has the opportunity to share how they’re feeling about their day so far. We’re working towards developing an emotional vocabulary, as well as listening to each other. Then we do an “ice breaker” activity. It might be a quick Lego build (‘build something in 5 minutes” or “build something with your eyes closed”), or it might be silly “would you rather” questions, or it might be something physical to regulate our bodies (like this or this).
Then we take out our lego boxes and prepare to build. Each participant has their own box of legos (with the same pieces and number of mini-figures). As the facilitator, I pose a question/challenge. Perhaps it will be “You’re stranded on an island, what does it look like?” Or “Let’s build an amusement park.” As the facilitator, I’m noticing: How do the kids plan what they’re going to build? Do they look at each piece, carefully selecting the components? Or just grab some pieces out of the box and start building? Do they communicate with their peers about what they’re planning to build?
Once everyone has started to build their response to the initial question, a challenge is posed. “A storm is coming! Build a shelter to keep everyone safe!” Or “Tourists are coming! Build a resort!” Or “Too many rides! The amusement park needs some games!” How do participants handle the new challenge? Can they be flexible? Can they pivot and change course? How do they manage the surprise? How do they handle things if their model isn’t turning out as they hoped? How can they manage frustration without destroying their model or leaving the group?
Then we’ll have the opportunity to reflect. Each participant will discuss their own idea, and listen to others’ ideas. They’ll discuss what works and doesn’t work about each structure, giving constructive feedback. They’ll give compliments to others, and accept compliments about their own work. We’ll talk about what went well, and strategies for doing things differently next time.
Does it work?
There are several research studies demonstrating the positive results of Lego-based therapy. But beyond the numbers and clinical trials, what is actually happening to a child’s brain when engaging in a Lego-based therapy group?
Brain plasticity is a term used by neuroscientists that refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life, for both better and worse. Biology, environment, and experience all play a significant role in human brain plasticity. Basic brain architecture and innate temperament have a significant effect on the way a brain develops. However, ALL experiences change the physical structure of the brain, so it is possible to “rewire” our brains.
Play has a profound effect on creating new neural connections in the brain. When free-building with Legos, we tap into our imagination and creativity and connect with the abstract, which exercises the right hemisphere of the brain. When we follow a sequential process of adhering to a build guide or work to solve a problem, we exercise the left hemisphere of our brains.
The combination of physical construction activities and imaginative, creative play mirrors the integration of left- and right-brain hemispheres, resulting in greater balance and healthy well-being. By providing building experiences that consciously activate the power of each hemisphere, then combining these skills in a playful environment, children are able to make stronger brain connections and move towards greater self-control and resilience. Integrating the brain helps to support a secure attachment style, which increases self-confidence, improves socialization skills, and helps develop a resilient child who thrives socially, emotionally, and intellectually.
Lego-based social skills groups are an innovative and dynamic approach to supporting social-emotional learning and development in children. The benefits of playing with Legos within the Lego-based therapy model are immense. By providing a joint interest and a goal, Lego building can facilitate skills such as turn-taking, sharing, and following social rules. In addition, participation in Lego-based groups can help boost self-esteem and build positive attachments.
Interested in learning more? Contact Amy to learn more about the upcoming January 2021 Legos Social Group.
Kenny, Clara. (2019). Skill Builders Club. Columbia, SC: Self-published.
Legoff D.B., Sherman M. Long-term outcome of social skills intervention based on interactive LEGO play. Autism. 2006 Jul;10(4):317-29