If kids are all about playing with LEGO, there’s a good chance they’re also interested in innovation.
Teachers of STEM and parents worldwide have known for years the colorful building blocks inspire imagination and creativity in those who tinker with them. In fact, that correlation is so widely recognized that a Harvard Business School professor now uses them as tools in an instruction series known as the HBS Executive Education Leading Production Innovation program.
“It’s universal and it’s powerful: Toy blocks and other construction toys can change the way kids think,” advises biological anthropologist Gwen Dewar on Parentingscience.com. “Psychologists recognize two major types of problems: Convergent problems have only one correct solution (while) divergent problems can be solved in multiple ways. And divergent play with blocks may prepare kids to think creatively and better solve divergent problems.”
The history of LEGO itself is a study on innovation.
As Jonathan Ringen describes on Fastcompany.com, the family-owned business founded before WWII was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2001, due both to erratic product development and growing competition from video games and the internet. That’s when new CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp invested in deep ethnographic research on how kids around the world really play. Among the findings: Boys tend to be compelled by a strong narrative when playing with their LEGO, while girls tend to use their sets for role play — and both love the building aspect.
Based on that research, the company formed Future Lab, an ambitious R&D team tasked with inventing “entirely new, technologically enhanced play experiences for kids all over the world.” Among the successful LEGO innovations since that time are, according to Ringen:
- The “wildly popular” LEGO Architecture line targeted toward adults wishing to build replicas of iconic buildings.
- Crowdsourcing site LEGO Ideas, which encourages super fans to offer and vote on product suggestions.
- A series of “One Reality” toys in development that encourage building with the bricks concurrently with software running on a phone, tablet or computer.
- A Lego Fusion line through which kids build and photograph a structure before seeing it become part of a virtual world within an app (Fusion Town Master landed on the 2014 Toys “R” Us list of the 15 Hottest Christmas toys).
That spirit of innovation may partly explain why the Denmark-based LEGO Group achieved record sales in 2016, registering 6 percent growth over 2015 to surpass $6 billion.
How can you foster that same spirit of innovation in your own young children? Dewar recommends getting them started by combining other elements of play with traditional LEGO building. For example, you could encourage them to use other character toys and accessories to invent pretend scenarios using the blocks; read them a story and then ask them to create the story elements with LEGO and/or challenge them to recreate something from a photo or diagram in LEGO form.
“Construction play seems so obviously mechanical, it’s easy to think only of the development of practical engineering skills and forget the importance of mind-bending fantasy,” she notes.
Wish to further encourage your child’s innovation and creativity? Bricks 4 Kidz offers LEGO building and robotics sessions for children at locations worldwide.