Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Teach Geography & World History with LEGO

After decades of popularity, children continue to enjoy stretching their imaginations through creative building with LEGO and by acting out narratives with their creations and the help of favorite minifigures. This desire for exploratory learning and narrative building persists even through competition from technologies offering instantaneous thrills. Not only does building with LEGO teach children valuable hard skills, such as architecture and design, but studies have shown that they can function as aids to improving social skills, interpersonal awareness, and contextualizing new information.

Advantages of Teaching World History & Geography with LEGO

Educators often find teaching children history and world affairs to be challenging undertakings. For the most part, young children have little interest in world affairs. Their narrower, shorter experience of social complexity render incomprehensible the vastness of global affairs, entities, and histories. Thus, many people go through life without a clear understanding of the world's geography, political histories, or even the roots of their local community. Parents and educators are increasingly turning to interactive learning strategies to teach young children about the broader world and its complex social history at earlier ages.

Why Teach World History?

Children who grow up with awareness of world geography and geopolitical history often feel more connected with a desire to improve on and learn from history. Knowledge of geography can also help children grow up with stronger cultural sensitivity, an important faculty in a globalized world. Furthermore, research has shown that children who learn through interpersonal play mediums such as LEGO tend to grow up with well-developed empathy. The creative aspect of LEGO, where children can develop storylines describing fictional settings and characters, also enhances the learning experience by stimulating a child's creative capacity and further boosting empathy skills. In fact, engagement with fictional and non-fictional storytelling is a strong precursor for interpersonal success.

Given these facts, many parents and educators wonder how to teach geography and world history. LEGO activities like historical reenactments and mapmaking are ideal for teaching children about geography. They tend to capture a child's interest while teaching multiple skills and faculties simultaneously.

A Fun History Learning Exercise

Both educators and parents can leverage LEGO to teach children valuable geography and history skills. Since LEGO creations are easy to take apart and reassemble, the features of any terrain or geopolitical entity can be studied through the aid of these building blocks. The following activity exposes kids to geography through map-making and important historical narratives within and between countries.

1. Introduce in Fun, Educational Ways

To prevent children from learning to dislike geography or history, ensure to approach this exercise in a positive and fun way. Encourage children to work with their friends, and time should be allocated to account for a child's natural tendency to get distracted as they experiment. Children should be situated in a structured environment where they are monitored by adults and obligated to take an active role in the activity. Assemble the children in one room, encourage them to work together, and make sure that they are ready to learn.

2. Associate LEGO Blocks With Culture

The best way to start this exercise is to tell a story associated with the geographical location they will be learning about. Stories can either be told from memory or with the aid of a children's book. As the story is read, children should be asked to identify LEGO characters and items that they imagine being associated with the culture of the places mentioned in the story. The goal of this activity is to captivate a child's imagination so that his or her creativity can flow as the exercise gets underway.

Image by Milk & Cookies, a homeschooling blog
3. Draw Maps With LEGO Blocks

Distribute printed handouts with a map of the area being studied. You can even provide children with maps of different countries that all play a role in a historical event. World Atlas has free, printable maps that are perfect for this exercise. Children should be asked to describe what they see on the map. Educators should go over what the map represents, including landmarks, terrain, and cities, before proceeding to the next step. Now have the children use LEGO bricks in the colors of a country’s flag to fill in the shape of the map. Finally, stack bricks on this first layer and build geographical features like mountains and cities onto it.

4. Have Kids Work Together

Children should be encouraged to be creative by applying themes discussed in the story to give their maps an extra level of detail. Educators should also display the flags of nations or states depicted on the maps to encourage children to associate these territories with their flags. Throughout this step, children should work with their peers to reinforce the value of collaboration and teamwork. They can even act out events in the area and time period being discussed.

5. Ask Kids to Rebuild Maps From Memory

The final step of this exercise is to rebuild the map without the use of visual aids. It is important to ensure that children understand the original map before initiating this exercise. Children can quickly become frustrated and upset when they do not understand what they are supposed to be building. Keep this activity fun and beneficial by answering any questions and encouraging children to collaborate with their peers.

The activity described here was inspired by this post from Amy of Milk and Cookies blog. Amy homeschools her son, runs Milk and Cookies blog, co-owns a social media marketing company, and is a brand ambassador for LEGO Education©. Check out the Milk and Cookies blog for tons of fun home-learning activities by an expert homeschooler.


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