Brick by brick, Lego therapy helps improve skills in children and adults.

This Bluru school helps children with learning disabilities discover the world through Lego
news Education Saturday, July 01, 2017 - 13:26

If you played with Lego bricks as a child, you’d remember the colourful plastic blocks which kept you busy for hours as you built anything from houses to helicopters. Sure, they were fun toys which helped you pass time as kids and gave your imagination a physical structure, but what other purpose could they possibly serve?

Turns out, they have the potential to do a lot more. And at Ankura Foundation, an inclusive pre-school in Bengaluru, that is just what is happening. The school also includes students with learning disabilities. Dr Shobha Shashidhara, the director of the foundation started a Lego Club about a month ago and now, along with her daughter Shruthi, helps children who have learning disability and social difficulties.

What is Lego Therapy

The Lego Club started on May 25 in collaboration with Toylet, a toy company. The Club currently has six children with learning disabilities between the ages of 5 and 7.

The Club employs Lego therapy, and also claims to be the first in Karnataka to have done so for children with learning disabilities. It was a Canadian neuropsychologist, Dr Daniel B LeGoff, who first discovered the therapeutic effect of Lego bricks for children who fell under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 1999.

The success of the method has led to Lego groups coming up to help ASD children in various parts of the world.

Dr Shobha says that Lego therapy works because it takes the adult out of the equation and allows for the child to take the initiative and break out of his/her shell. “Many other methods to make children comfortable with social interactions rely too much on the teacher’s intervention and instruction. With Lego, the process happens naturally,” she says.

Children building on a Lego wall at Ankura, which, by allowing children to stand up and play, improves their motor skills and posture.

Initially, the child is assessed and based on that is given individual therapy if needed. Once the child is comfortable enough, he/she is allowed to work in a team.

Put in groups of three, one child takes the role of the ‘engineer’, or one that decides the instruction, another becomes the ‘builder’, the one who assembles the Lego structure together and the third one is the ‘supplier’, or the one who finds the right pieces to use.

“Such a roleplay automatically means that they have to interact with one another. So instead of us making them speak to other children, the interaction becomes organic, making it easier for the children to work together,” Dr Shobha says.

Shruthi, who holds a degree in psychology, tells TNM that there is more at work here that making children comfortable with social interactions. “There are five aspects that Lego therapy helps in: physical and motor development, cognitive development, speech and communication, socialization, emotional development and creativity and imagination,” she says.

And while adults stay out of the group dynamics for the most part, they do need to intervene at times when emotions run high and there are disagreements. But this becomes a part of children's emotional development as well as socialisation, say Dr Shobha and Shruthi.

Shruthi adds that they also use Lego to teach about space, colour, pattern, mathematics and the like. “For instance, we can teach them numbers by counting the bricks, sequences by asking them to place the right numbered brick between those labelled ‘5’ and ‘7’, special concepts like placing a brick behind, below or on top of another…” Shruthi explains.

However, it will take time to see more definitive results in terms of social skills and learning, Dr Shobha adds.

Not just for kids

It’s not just children who can use Lego to enhance or improve their skills. Turns out, Lego can help solve some serious corporate problems too. Rajan Narayanan, who works with Dr Shobha and Shruthi at Ankura Foundation, is also a certified serious Lego play instructor. Rajan, who was certified in 2008, holds Lego serious play sessions for corporates in Bengaluru from time to time to help with strategy and problem solving.

“The problem we often run into as adults, is that while growing up, we’ve forgotten to play,” Rajan observes. He explains that Lego serious play works in three ways – by increasing the commitment of the team, by improving their confidence and by providing insights into the problem, even if it doesn’t conclude in a solution.

Taking the example of the situation where a company’s sales are down, Rajan explains what happens. “First we’ll ask each team member to build a Lego model of themselves as a person. If you ask them to describe themselves verbally, they’d probably not say over 2 lines. But this helps them really articulate better – the story becomes more engaging,” he says.

A Lego serious play session. Photo courtesy Rajan Narayanan

Then, the participants are asked to build a Lego model of why they think the sales are low. After this, they would be asked to build a region-wise model of what the problem is, followed by a model of how they can help solve the problem. “This way, the entire team participates, uses metaphors to explain their ideas and negotiate with others about what they say,” Rajan says.

The major component of Lego application in problem solving or strategizing is storytelling, Rajan says. “It also helps that you’re thinking and expressing through your fingers. This improves motor skills, especially in children,” he adds.

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