Last issue (Sept/Oct 19) in The OT Magazine we explored Lego therapy and the benefits it offer in encouraging children to open up, socialise and follow instruction in a therapeutic and safe setting.
Lego bricks have existed since 1949, when Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who had been making wooden toys since losing his job in the Great Depression in 1932, moved from making wooden toys to the famous construction bricks, whose name is a contraction of the Danish phrase “Leg godt,”which means play well.
In 2004, paediatric neuropsychologist Dr Daniel LeGoff was trying to produce an effective intervention for children who live with autism, but was struggling to find something that the children were interested in interacting with. However, he noticed that when Lego construction sets were around, children would come together and engage in social communication. Despite there being a room full of toys for the children they could play with, they gravitated naturally towards the Lego, and from there, Dr LeGoff created a therapeutic intervention that would naturally support and reinforce the children’s pre-existing approach to the toy.
From there came Lego therapy, which seeks to build on communication and social interaction among other aspects of therapy through functional and fun play. The therapy promotes a collaborative experience through group-work – although it can just as easily be performed between only a therapist and their patient – while taking part in social activity and having a great time doing it.
Lego therapy is traditionally carried out in a group setting, with the multiple members of the group taking up different roles in the session, where the loose aim is to build a model following a set of instructions. The engineer has the instructions, and works with the supplier who has the bricks, the builder who of course constructs the model, and the foreman or director who ensures the group collectively works as a team towards the shared aim. As the session progresses, the children swap roles, allowing each to take the various mantles that are necessary to ensure the group works effectively and in harmony. Towards the end of the play session, the children are given time to build whatever they like.
For children on the autism spectrum, the structured and predictable nature of Lego therapy is highly appealing due to its systems, and also encourages the members of the group to solve problems with the security of adult supervision. It aids in the development of problem solving skills and deepens the children’s relationship with their surroundings.
The role of the adults while the children build is to act as a mediator: it’s an unfortunate fact of the nature of group play that tensions can easily rise in groups, especially where communication skills are poor or non-existent. Adults are therefore expected to maintain the fairness and calm in the group play, suggesting ways the group can compromise over issues, mediating fights, encouraging positive expressions and actions, and ensuring the group remains focused on the end goal of what they are building.
Speaking to WeLoveBricks, a site which promotes the use of Lego therapy, child development expert and research psychologist Dr Maryhan Baker explains how the intervention can help improve fine motor skills, develop creativity, and promote the opportunity for children to try new things without the fear of failure.
“Through their manipulation of Lego bricks children learn about applying differential pressure; some bricks need small amounts of pressure when building, whilst others require a great deal. The benefits of this hands-on trial and error learning is far more valuable than anything we can say as parents to teach our children about applying the right amount of pencil pressure as they write,” Dr Baker writes.
“Through imaginative play children lose themselves in their fantasies. An anxious child loses all inhibitions when they are slaying dragons, teaching their pupils, caring for poorly animals, or saving the universe with their super powers.
“When children play they are constantly learning new skills, which can then be generalised to other areas of their life. Playing with Lego provides an understanding of spatial awareness, promotes a sense of creativity, and teaches mathematical concepts of symmetry, shape and geometry.
“Children learn so much more through Lego play because there is no fear of failure, Lego creations fall down when you stack them too high, not all our creations quite work out as we planned, but we can always start again.”
Lego Therapy is excellent for improving:
- Fine motor skills
- Visual perceptual motor skills
- Cognitive skills
- Sensorimotor skills
- Self-efficacy skills
- Social communication skills
- Problem solving
- Conflict resolution
- Eye contact
- Verbal skills
(Article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2019 issue of The OT Magazine)
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