LEGO blocks are a perennial favorite of children of all ages. Library LEGO clubs provide a great way to engage children and young adults in developmentally beneficial play.
LEGO blocks click together with library youth services, as promoting play of this sort “contributes to early literacy development by increasing attention span, memory, creativity, and language and vocabulary skills.” It’s also great for older children and teens, since “tactile and kinesthetic learning increase student understanding” (read more about the educational benefits in this School Library Journal article quoted above).
What does it take to get a LEGO club up and running? Well, obviously, you’ll need some LEGO. Rigorous research has found that you’ll need at least 64 blocks per kid (a 400 piece bucket can serve 6). You can find some relatively reasonably priced large piece-count buckets on LEGO.com and on Amazon. It’s also possible to score some great LEGO deals on eBay, though that might take more luck and patience than you have at your disposal. Big buckets are good value starting sets, but can be limited in range–you’ll likely want to augment with things like a box of wheels or an additional bucket containing a different assortment of building blocks (the downside of the buckets is that they tend to have more small 1×1 and 1×2 pieces than you’ll need). You’ll also want extra base plates, as children tend to be fonder of building on bases than they are of free-building. Stocking up on LEGO people with their endearing cylindrical heads and blocky legs and torsos is a must.
If you’re including younger kids (1.5 – 5 years old) you’ll need LEGO duplo blocks, as well. They’re easier for small fingers to manipulate and are much harder to swallow.
That about covers materiel (see below for how serving teens can differ), but what about the actual program? The Show Me Librarian has a delightfully detailed step-by-step post on children’s programming with LEGO. I highly recommend you read in its entirety (including the comments!). The basics are: you’ll need to choose a theme for the kids to build around (and change this every session!), target an age range, and block out an hour, to be used as follows:
Opening 5 minutes: Welcome the participants into the room, let those who want base plates grab them (though keep the pieces out of reach or sealed at this point) and find a comfortable building place. Announce the theme.
Following 45 minutes: Building time! Make the building blocks available. It’s now your job to mill about, visit with the kids about what they’re building, and help kids locate specific building materials as requested.
Next 8 minutes: Tour the creations. Let each child show off their creation and talk about what they built (if they so choose).
Final 2 minutes: Clean up. Enlist all participants to scour for building blocks in the wild and return all found and unused pieces into your buckets. Ideally, you should leave their creations on display until the next club (marketing the program and encouraging them to return to showcase their work).
If you’re targeting teens, you’ll want to have things more focused and challenging. The top-tier approach is starting a FIRST LEGO robotics league, centered around the programmable robotic LEGO sets called Mindstorm NXT. This requires a greater commitment on your part (both of time and money – here’s a sample 2013 budget). Participation in a league like this provides teens with competitive robotic build challenges, requiring the application of real-world math and science concepts. In addition to STEM field development, they’re great for team-building, cultivating critical thinking, and honing presentation skills.
An alternative approach to engaging teens through LEGO blocks could include a LEGO film-making program or contest. There are stop-motion animation apps available on both Android and iOS (iPad/iPhone) platforms that can put the production element easily within reach. Another approach would be to have design contests, with prizes up for grabs (donations from local establishments and/or funded by your Friends group).
The LEGO bricks wiki is the ultimate piece reference.
The following libraries in North Dakota have hosted LEGO events or have ongoing LEGO clubs:
Garrison Public Library (LEGO club)
Grand Forks Public Library (FIRST LEGO League!)
Minot Public Library (LEGO club)
Did I miss your library? Please, tell me about it in the comments! I’d also love to hear any questions or additional ideas you have about LEGO events.