Literacy and Legos

I am not a fan of Legos. Actually, Legos are fine, but I’m less-than-thrilled with the Lego garden growing on my son’s bedroom carpet. Angry, red welts on the souls of my feet are the sacrifices I make to unlock my son’s creativity. Luckily, my son is exceptionally creative with his Legos. Using an assortment of figures, a camera, and Google photos, my eleven-year-old turned sequenced photographs into an animated GIF (weeks earlier, it took me several hours and a complicated design software to create an animated image). The experience with my son helped me to re-envision Legos as tools for building multi-modal literacy. T Animation

Students who live in a technology-rich world need encouragement toward other modes of expression. As my son discovered, visual communication is an important skill that can be developed by using a sequence of Lego images (see tutorial).  In the past few days, I’ve become an enlightened Lego enthusiast who sees value in toys that boast “dreaming is the first step to doing it.”

Through bricks, children can be taught to speak the language of story, develop instructional literacy, and learn different modes of communication. Combining visual images can be seen as an exercise in plot construction, character examination, and audience assessment. Lego directions can help students with instructional literacy. Building animated GIFs can be a method for teaching sequencing and digital communication.

Mounds of research can be found connecting Lego-play to the development of planning, sequencing, and synthesizing skills. It’s not uncommon to find educators exposing elementary students to engineering, math, and science concepts through hands-on, open-ended design scenarios. For example, Supporting Learning Flow Through Integrative Technologies, published in 2007, recognizes play-oriented learning strategies associated with Lego Robolab. From robotics teams to Lego Mindstorms, the opportunity for blending skill mastery and play continues to grow.

Image retrieved from

Image retrieved from

Lego continues to re-establish itself as tool that fosters social interaction at a level that would make the famed developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky proud. To children, Legos are past, present, and future. Decades of tots and teens have concocted structures, figures, and stories. Parents pass down their love for Legos the same way the inventor of Lego, Ole Kirk Christiansen, handed off his company to his descendants.

I’m convinced that if  Vygotsky lived more than two years past the creation of this iconic toy in 1932, he would have applauded Christiansen for creating such a useful tool. Vygotsky and Christiansen would probably agree, we could use more carpet Lego gardens.

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  • B F

    Long live Legos! What a great post – thanks Tamara. I think parents and early childhood educators alike would agree that Legos are a nearly perfect toy. The only downside?… stepping on those little bricks with bare feet. :)

    • tamaralmitchell

      Agreed, B F. Dangerous thought they may be, the benefits of Legos outweigh the harm.

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