Creating cars, spaceships and fantasy landscapes out of Lego bricks is helping to build communication and team-building skills for students at a Oswestry specialist college.
Further Education specialist Derwen College, is asking for donations of Lego and similar plastic building bricks for new Lego-based therapy workshops to start in January.
Derwen College, in Gobowen, will be running Team Building Skills workshops with students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and communication difficulties, using moulded construction blocks such as Lego. The sessions may look like child’s play but they are a valuable exercise in building students’ skills in communication and teamwork.
Teacher Mathew Barnett is appealing to businesses and individuals to donate Lego kits, Lego bricks, Lego tools and boards so that as many students as possible can benefit from the workshops.
The session will be run by teacher Mathew, who recently trained in team building therapy using Lego. Mathew, who has been working at the college for five years, said that the sessions have been found to be effective for children with autism and related conditions. He firmly believes it could achieve equally effective results with young adults as well.
The idea was first reported by Professor Daniel LeGoff in 2004. Working with autistic youngsters, he would sometimes break the ice by asking children to bring in their latest building project. One day he witnessed two autistic children in his waiting room communicate for the first time – the bond that had brought them together had been Lego.
Mathew says that although the sessions are about learning through a fun activity there are strict rules that ‘players’ all make and agree to adhere to.
“Students choose between a kit or a freestyle project and work together. Working in groups of three, students then assign roles to each other as engineer, supplier and builder. The engineer directs and describes the instructions for the project; the supplier finds the right pieces and passes them on to the builder. The builder then puts the bricks together. In order for the project to go from bricks to final product, the three players must be able to communicate with each other, verbally or non-verbally, and to engage in joint attention, creativity, and problem solving,” he explains.
“This kind of activity develops skills that can be transferred to many other real-life situations and builds essential team work skills’’ he continues.
The therapy also involves competitions, memory games, stress-relief activities, creative thinking and games using bricks.
Student Oscar Pollack will be one of the first students to embark on the training. Mathew believes that Oscar will benefit from the Lego-based team building therapy.
Oscar already has a good understanding of Lego and is keen to start working with fellow students George and Tom. He enjoys working with the blocks and starts systematically building on to a board when given Lego pieces.
He says: “Lego was invented in 1932 in Denmark. I am going to build a house.
“In a group, I would like to be the engineer and give out instructions but I think I’d make a good builder as well.
“It is going to help with my learning, like learning team work. We will have to work together. It will help me to understand about good listening. We will have to communicate to work together well.”
Mathew hopes to start weekly sessions with students in January through until Easter, with a fresh cohort starting for the summer term.
Students achieve certificates at every level, starting from Helper, then progressing to Builder, Creator, Master and Genius. The Genius grade is very rare but Mat thinks he may have a student or two in mind that could achieve this accolade.
He says: “I’m really keen to get started as soon as possible. Students and parents that I’ve spoken to are keen, and the sessions tick so many boxes. They help students in learning numbers and shapes, following instructions, taking turns, communicating and taking responsibility.
“When I went to the training, I didn’t know what to expect but I came away feeling genuinely inspired. I can see so many ways that it could support some of our students.”
With bags of enthusiasm, all that’s holding him back now are the bags of bricks needed to help build confidence, communication skills and countless imaginative projects – the possibilities are endless.
For details of how to donate, telephone Derwen College on 01691 661234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information regarding the college visit the website at www.derwen.ac.uk