Homeschooling with Lego

It’s finally feeling really cold and wintery in central Ohio this week and I struggled to get us outside on at all Monday. This is highly unusual for me – a dedicated dog walker who needs to move my body. While our homeschool days are regularly filled with reading, drawing, and playing (educational) games, hanging out inside all day I got the urge to do something different.

Last month, Cora got a few new Lego-related gifts. I found these by searching the web for “gifts to give kids with too many Legos.” This wasn’t because I want her to stop playing with them. On the contrary we LOVE Lego around here – search this blog for Lego and you’ll find lots of posts on the subject. But I wanted to inspire her to do new things with the bricks she already has. Yesterday we dove into one of the books where we met a real building challenge, for mother and child.

Here are a few things I took away from our lesson, which I went into thinking about as supporting girls and innovation. I’ve touched on this topic before, see for example in this brief post about STEAM related picture books.

The first, and ongoing, challenge is finding pieces that meet the supply list for whichever project you choose. At first, Cora selected a project and started building but quickly found she didn’t have certain specialty gears we’d need. Reminded me of times I have started cooking something new without reading the recipe all the way through only to discover I’m missing an ingredient or specially pot or pan I need.

We looked through the book again together and found a project we seemed to have the pieces to complete, though we had to take a lot of liberties finding substitutes for what was recommended. For instance, the walls of our coin bank are made of a range of colors and sizes, not the specific red and gray bricks the author identifies. This seemed like a good lesson about using and being grateful for materials you have on hand, which the author suggests, though the picture perfect images in the book suggest otherwise.

We went through a lot of trial and error, which I was simultaneously happy about and genuinely challenged by. I personally had to fight the desire to give up at least a handful of times. Cora started building a few side projects at some points. I had to remind myself, you are a model right now. If you give up, so will she. I remembered the time Cora asked me to make her shoes that could fit a Barbie doll; the confidence she had that I could do it, and my desire to not let her down. And so we persevered, for hours – losing track of time and reaching a state of flow so intense we nearly missed her piano lesson – until we got the coins to roll down the ramps and into the drawer below.

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Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 14

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This subject of this issue of Picturebooks on the Potty – Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – is one part book, one part educational toy, and one part girl power battle cry. The book tells the story of a girl named Goldie who builds a machine to spin her toys modeled after the ballerina in her music box. The goal: Get more girls to see science, technology, engineering, and math as arenas for creative play, exploration, and potential careers.

To be honest, The Spinning Machine wouldn’t have made this column as a stand alone picturebook. The story just isn’t that captivating. (You can find some of my recommendations for picturebooks about kids who build stuff here and here.) What Goldie Blox does that these other books don’t, however, is provide materials for readers to build alongside Goldie. This is good news for parents as well as kids. No pressure to gather supplies and mine Pinterest for DIY project ideas. Our kids, boys included, can start tinkering immediately.

But girls are the primary audience for Goldie Blox. Combining their love of storytelling with all kids’ tendency to come up with new ways to play with their toys, the makers hope to reach millions of girls who are would-be engineers but, “just might not know it yet.” After only one reading, Crafty Cora has spent hours playing independently with the peg board, washers, axels, spools, blox, and snap-on figurines that came with the book. She has set the parts up in various configurations and made up scenarios for each scene.

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Cora wasn’t the only girl around here excited about Goldie Blox. Her older sister, grandmother, aunt, and I have all spent time messing around with the kit. In this way it’s been a cross-generational activity, one which each participant approaches a bit differently, thus demonstrating that there’s more than one way to spin a sloth.

As far as I’m concerned, Goldie Blox has already earned her keep. Still, I’m eager to see what else she might inspire.