Lego therapy love

I love it when research finds that something my students love doing is also really beneficial.  Lego has been one of my favourite toys since childhood (I loved my pirate island), and a key part of my therapy toolkit since I qualified.  But how can I claim Lego and lego therapy is so much more than a bit of fun?

Lego therapy groups are an evidence-based (LeGoff and Sherman 2006 , Owens, Granader, Humphrey and Baron-Cohen 2008), highly motivating and practical way of working on social communication skills.  They are enjoyed by children and young people of all ages (although this post will refer to ‘children’ throughout for ease).   I have even heard of some corporate away days using similar activities to develop team-work skills!  They are also much more reflective of the actual play or social scenarios the child is likely to experience, compared to other social skills group formats.

Lego therapy sessions develop a lot of different skills:

  • Team work, as the children have to work together to achieve a completed model
  • Accepting your role, and practicing taking different roles within a group
  • Listening and following instructions from others, particularly for the supplier and builder roles
  • Giving instructions containing a range of vocabulary and language structures, such as adjectives (e.g. the size and colour of pieces) and prepositions (e.g. ‘at the side of the spaceship’, ‘behind the green square’)
  • Communicating clearly (e.g. at the right volume and speed, giving enough information), and ensuring the other group members have understood
  • Strategies to ‘repair’ a conversation if something goes wrong, such as asking for clarification if you don’t understand an instruction,
  • Practical problem solving and flexibility of thought, e.g. what to do if you can’t attach the piece in the way described, or if the piece you need is missing from the box
  • Expressing ideas clearly, listening to other’s ideas, and negotiating when building “freestyle”

This is how lego therapy sessions work…

There are normally three group members:

  • An engineer (who has the instructions)
  • A supplier (who has the bricks)
  • A builder (who builds the model!)

Children can swap between the roles within the same session, or keep the same role for the whole session.  Children agree to follow the ‘Lego group rules’, such as ‘if you break it you have to fix it or ask for help to fix it’, ‘do not put Lego bricks in your mouth’.

Children start by working together to build small models from instructions (I choose models that can be completed in one session), then can move on to building larger models with instructions over a series of group sessions.  You can also have sessions of “freestyle” building where the children have a challenge (e.g. build a car), but no instructions to follow.

An adult is present during the session to help the group run smoothly, but crucially not to solve the children’s social problems for them – instead they just draw the children’s attention to a problem, and help them come up with their own solutions.

Adult: “There’s a bit of a problem here, does anyone know what it is?”

Child: “Sam got the wrong piece out of the box”

Adult: “How could you make sure he gets the right piece?”

Child: “Sam, I need a big red piece”

Adult: “That was a good idea – what did you just do?”

Child: “Said it again”

Adult: “Did Sam get the right piece that time?”

Child: “Yep!”

Adult: “Your idea worked!  How do you feel now?”

Child: “Happy!”

Once the group have identified a good strategy, then this can be practiced in future groups until the children are using the strategy independently.   I like to remind the children of useful  strategies they have identified and been practicing at the beginning of each session.  In this way, the children identify strategies they are happy using, and can start to reflect on the impact of their communication skills on other children.

So Lego therapy groups can be a really powerful way of developing social communication skills.  If your child’s school suggests your child joins a Lego therapy group, you can be sure they are doing so much more than just ‘having fun’ (although it is a lot of fun too!).  For more information about the benefits of play for children of all ages, see our ‘child’s play’ blog post.   Lego can also be used in Speech and Language therapy sessions to help practice a range of other communication skills, such as extending sentence length (e.g. moving from ‘blue brick’, ‘there’ to ‘put the big blue brick on the flat red piece at the front’) or as a motivator in speech work.  Lego is truly a versatile and fun therapy tool!

A word of warning

Some schools run ‘Lego clubs’ which are opportunities for children to play with Lego without the structure of a Lego therapy group.  They can build whatever they want, on their own or with other children, and usually don’t have instructions to follow.  Whilst this can also be useful to help some children learn to play alongside others, this is very different to a Lego therapy group.   You may want to check with your school whether they are running a ‘Lego club’ or a ‘Lego therapy group’ if you think Lego therapy is the best option for your child.

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist and proud owner of a Lego Pirate Island

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