Monday, May 25, 2015

Social Skills Activities for Children: LEGO Clubs

Contents


Image from yaleschool.com
We at BRICK Marketplace have been exploring ideas for social skills activities for children and recently learned about LEGO Therapy. We have been fascinated and compelled by what we’ve read, and believe it provides a model for improving the social skills of ANY child and should not be seen strictly as therapy. This post explores modern theories about learning and social development, how LEGO Therapy fits these models, and how you can implement it to improve a child’s social skills. These methods are widely applicable in helping any child learn positive ways to interact, despite being first proposed for socializing children with autistic spectrum disorders or sensory impairments.

Development of social skills is of paramount importance for the intellectual development of all children. In fact, many see it as a precursor and fundamental component of proper cognitive development. Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory puts forth several important ideas that support the efficacy of LEGO Therapy for any child.

First, he poses that social interaction precedes and creates space for the internalization of new concepts. Children interact with their environment and the people within it to learn. Second, he puts forth the importance of a More Knowledgeable Other and the importance of a child’s trust in the MKOs in his or her life. Within LEGO Therapy, these are the adults guiding the activities. We’ll delve into that role more below.

Finally, he proposes a concept called the Zone of Proximal Development. This is the ideal space between guided and independent problem solving, which is optimal for learning. LEGO Therapy puts participants squarely in this zone, with a model much like that of a Montessori school. Children solve problems together, in their own fashion and time, with adults available for guidance and answering specific questions but not solving problems on behalf of the children.

LEGO Therapy adheres to a naturalist educational philosophy, which seeks to engage a child’s innate need to interact and experience in order to learn. The practice differs from normal play in the providing of structure and guidance when interpersonal issues arise. It allows children to engage in a task together, completely without adult input. Input only comes when conflict arises. Thus, it builds upon the way children learn about the world naturally: through their own actions and interactions and the responses that arise from them.

Now that we have a framework for understanding the importance of social skills for cognitive development, let’s look at the specific skills we’re trying to foster. Social skills constitute an ability to understand and collaborate with others as much as they do to being understood. To communicate effectively and work with others, we and our children need to understand:
  • How to listen and watch attentively
  • When to lead and when to follow
  • How to motivate action from others using encouragement
Always keep in mind that there is more to socialization than positive interaction and play. Social grace also involves give and take, the ability to understand and be understood, and the ability to take the lead or step back when needed.

How it works

Follow these steps to set up your own LEGO group or club. An ideal number for a starting group is 4, though it can grow as time goes on. This growth can be good for challenging established group dynamics and allowing children to adapt to and integrate new members.

Download the PDF version of these instructions here.
  1. Create intro to concept for kids, with clearly defined set of club rules. Here's a sample rule set:
    • Respect the creations of others
    • Share the LEGO bricks
    • Build on a theme, or build your own creation
    • Building ends 10-15 minutes before the session does to allow cleanup and wrap-up time
    • Clean up when you are done
    • Leave the LEGO bricks when the session is over
    • Have fun!
  2. Introduce the concept and rules to children in individual sessions, where you should also work on a simple collaborative build with the child.
  3. Children are then introduced to the group; ideally, the group should include members without social skills deficits.
  4. Groups meet regularly (weekly is ideal) for about 90 minutes; during this time they undertake a collaborative LEGO building project (and sometimes other collaborative tasks), suited to participants’ skill levels.
  5. Roles and tasks are assigned anew during each session, with different responsibilities going to different members; typical roles include: Director, Engineer, Supplier, and Builder. Feel free to expand on these.
    • Director: Ensures that the team is working together and communicating
    • Engineer: Oversees design and ensures instructions are followed
    • Supplier: Keeps track of type and color of bricks needed, and gives to the builder
    • Builder: Puts the bricks together based on input from the Engineer
  6. The team now undertakes the build, with the following guidelines:
    • Emphasis is on both verbal and non-verbal communication
    • Everyone’s attention should be aligned
    • Any problems require input from the whole group
    • Sharing is encouraged
    • Switching roles mid-project is fine and helps foster flexibility and adaptability
  7. When conflicts arise, adults should instruct participants on social conventions that might help them reach resolution. They can redirect the children involved toward using calm language, negotiation, and compromise to resolve the issue. In fact, guidance on social conventions and thinking modes for staying on the right side of them is encouraged throughout the process. They should never receive help in building, however.
Evidence
Multiple medical and educational studies in both the US and UK found that facilitated group LEGO building projects can help develop and reinforce play and social skills including:
  • Collaborative problem solving
  • Turn-taking and sharing
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Task focus and joint attention
Interested in LEGO Therapy for socializing your children? Start a group and let us know how it goes and if you have any suggestions for other parents or teachers trying out this model.

Shop our store for LEGO sets to use with this activity.

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