If your kids are anything like my kids, they love to get their hands on any building toy they can. Over the years, we have amassed Mega Bloks, giant-sized cardboard bricks for building houses, wooden blocks, Duplos, Erector sets, Zoobs, and small-sized Legos. Once or twice a year when we go through our toys and purge whatever we are not using, I always look over the building sets, amazed at the collection, and then pass them over in favor of kid’s meal toys, stuffed animals, cheap gifts, and the like. I just can’t let any of them go because my kids actually use them all.
Once upon a time I looked at these building sets as play, a way to pass the time, nothing more. As our family has grown, our children have gotten older, and I have homeschooled for longer, I now see these types of toys as invaluable learning tools. I don’t know if I will ever tell my kids this, but I consider their building time an important part of their school day. They are learning so much when they pull out their building sets including:
Patience. Just watching my oldest (who won’t sit still for one worksheet) take 2 hours out of his day to build a complete Lego model floors me. It’s like witnessing a miracle.
Following Instructions. The same child I just mentioned will meticulously follow each page of directions to the “T” and end up with a perfect model.
Creativity. My boy the Toolman builds some of the coolest things powered by “power crystals” and Lego “batteries”; his ships have lasers, scopes, secret hatches, and rockets. They are way cooler than anything I would have built myself.
Discipline. Let’s just say that I can’t see myself putting together 1000 tiny little Legos. I’ve tried to build a small model and it makes me crazy. It takes discipline to complete one of these projects.
Mechanics. I’ve seen my kids build and rebuild until they can get their house to stand without falling, and watched them build a catapult to launch things from. They are learning how the world works and how things fit together.
Not only that, but I have used these sets to model countless things. We have used Zoobs to model how molecules fit together, Legos to illustrate how to count by ones, twos, or fives. We have grabbed piles of Lego pieces to sort them by attribute (color, size, shape, etc), and we have created models of things in reality and in our imaginations. I can’t imagine doing schoolwork without the help of our building sets.
I especially wanted to highlight ZOOBs in this post because I don’t think that many people know about them. They are interlocking plastic pieces that kind of look like a dog bone or a barbell. The sets come with instructions for creating models, or you can build whatever you like with them. We first saw them at the Arizona Science Center, where the boys learned how different molecules look, and I just knew that we had to find a set the instant my kids laid their hands on them. We purchased a set that includes wheels, and my kids have built so many cars and tractors with them that I’ve lost count. It’s a building set worth investing in. This article gives some great ideas for using the ZOOB pieces in your science studies.
No matter what building sets you have at home, you can find ways to incorporate them into your homeschooling day. Also, remember that when your kids are “just playing”, they are often acquiring important skills that will help them in their life as an adult. Play can be a powerful thing. Your child who loves blocks today could be the engineer who loves real brick and steel buildings tomorrow.
Jenna Thornburg is a freelance writer, homeschooler of four children 7 and under, and a follower of the one true King.