By Amy Koester, Children’s Librarian, St. Charles City-County Library District
LEGO® Club has long been a hit at my branch library in Missouri, and I attribute much of the program’s success to its simplicity. LEGO Club is built on finite materials with infinite potential. Libraries need to buy supplies just once, but the possibilities for children’s creativity, problem-solving, and challenged-based hands-on engineering go on and on. It’s STEM programming at its most efficient, providing an enjoyable impact for kids while demanding relatively little of library staff. I highly recommend you give it a go. Need a bit of persuasion or guidance? Read on.
Why LEGO Club? It’s supremely engaging for a variety of kids. Children who like structure–a defined set of parameters or goals–enjoy the themed building challenges of the program. Children who thrive on open-ended creativity also love LEGO Club because it allows them to experiment and create whatever they want. Another appeal of LEGO Club for kids is its open format. Conversation is encouraged during building time, and kids engage with their peers on all sorts of topics while their hands are busy constructing things. When you consider the potential for engagement, peer interaction, and building an image of comfort and excitement at the library, LEGO Club is the ultimate bang for your buck.
What you need. When it comes down to it, there are only two necessities for offering a LEGO Club at your library: LEGOs, and a space where kids can build. As far as procuring the LEGOs for your club, there are several options. You can purchase new sets, in which case I recommend purchasing basic sets that include a wide variety of pieces. You can also seek donations of used LEGOs from community members (note: give them a thorough cleaning, whether with your library’s usual toy cleaner or a run through the dishwasher). Once you have your LEGOs–preferably in some sort of container to keep them from getting all over the place–the only other thing you need is a space in which to host your club. I like to set up my library’s meeting room with long tables and bins of LEGOs in the center. This set-up allows kids to move from bin to bin if they need a specific brick, and it allows me to navigate the room without disrupting anyone’s process.
If you’re looking to make a greater initial investment, you may budget for a few additional specific items: baseplates to provide a building platform, assortments of LEGO Minifigures, and some sort of display area to showcase creations. These items are strictly extra, however; the impact of offering a LEGO Club is not diminished by not having them.
Something else to keep in mind: lots of libraries have started LEGO Clubs with grant assistance. My own library district has LEGO Clubs at multiple branches supported by grants from our Friends of the Library group. There is also the LEGO Children’s Fund, which awards grants to all sorts of creative projects.
Who to include. If you’re using regular LEGO bricks, you can offer LEGO Club to school-age children and teens alike. My library focuses on reaching K-5 children at our monthly LEGO Club, but we’ve also had success with occasional building programs for middle school students. I plan for about 30 children to attend any given LEGO Club meeting, although numbers fluctuate a bit higher and a bit lower throughout the year. Open the program to the number of children your space can hold, and the number that you feel comfortable supervising. Also, I encourage setting a distinct age range for your program, especially since preschool-aged siblings will almost definitely want to tag along. It’s up to you how you deal with these younger builders whose siblings are LEGO Club members. I tend to let them in with express instructions that caregivers are fully responsible for building with them and making sure pieces don’t end up in mouths.
My branch is about to experiment with an all-preschoolers building program, which may happen a few times a year if it’s successful. The premise is that preschoolers can have their own building space, albeit with materials that are more specifically directed at their age and development levels. Such a program may include LEGO DUPLOs®, wooden building blocks, nesting toys, and other toys with building potential. That way preschoolers’ brains get engineering and problem-solving exercise with age-appropriate materials.
What to do. I like to break our monthly hour-long LEGO Club meetings into a few distinct parts:
- Welcome and introduction to the theme of the month (about 5 minutes). I greet the children as they come into the room (I’m usually wearing my LEGO earrings, channeling my inner Ms. Frizzle), and explain the basic premise for the meeting. I point out where kids can find materials, then I introduce the day’s theme or challenge. These challenges–build something to do with Ancient Egypt, build a working vehicle, build something related to outer space–provide a basic measure of direction for builders, although I never strictly enforce the theme. Kids are ultimately free to build whatever they please. If you’re looking for ideas about themes and challenges, I highly recommend checking out the LEGO Quest blog, where details on 52 different challenges can fuel years of monthly LEGO Club meetings.
- Building time (about 40 minutes). The bulk of the program is for building and creating. I basically just let the kids get down to the business of making things. I spend this portion of the program walking around the room, asking open-ended questions about the children’s structures and helping track down specific blocks as they’re needed. I love this 40 minutes of the program because I get to interact with each child in attendance. Often they want to tell me what they’ve been reading, too, which I of course love.
- At the “display” table (about 13 minutes). When children finish building their creations, they move them to our display table. Each child takes a piece of card stock and a marker, writing down the title and the creator’s name. (These will go on display in the library in our display cases.) Once everyone has filled out a card, we go around the display table and every child has the chance to share what he or she has made. Some talk about their creations, and some shyly back away while fellow builders admire their handiwork. All children receive recognition for their efforts, which I believe is key.
- Clean up and farewell (about 2 minutes). Once we’ve seen everyone’s creations, I mention other upcoming school-age programs and ask attendees to help pick up wayward LEGO bricks on their way out. They are happy to oblige.
- After the program. Once I’ve shut the program room door, I spend about 10 minutes putting the children’s work into our display cases. This step is strictly optional; if you don’t have a space to display the pieces, you can take them apart and store the bricks until the next program. LEGOs are, after all, a temporary medium.
Build your audience. You have lots of LEGO fans in your community, I can pretty much guarantee it. However, it may take a little while to build up a regularly-attending audience for a new LEGO Club. I recommend a few strategies for getting the word out about this terrific program. One, if you’re able to display any of the children’s creations–even just one or two small pieces–do so in a place that is highly visible in the library. Kids are always exploring their surroundings, and when they see LEGOs with the words “LEGO Club” nearby, their interest is piqued.
Another method of spreading the word is to get in touch with folks in your local school district. Teachers and administrators are always looking for hands-on enrichment activities for their students, and they may be happy to recommend LEGO Club. I’ve been in touch with local special education professionals, too. Since LEGO Club is very flexible–kids can build at their own pace, to their own abilities, and take pride in their unique creations–it has tremendous potential as an inclusive school-age program.
A third option for building your audience is to make LEGO Club highly visible during your summer reading program. We have lots more families that attend library programs during the summer, and as a result we offer extra sessions of LEGO Club during the months of summer reading. We reach a lot of new program-goers this way, and many of them keep coming to LEGO Club even as school starts up again.
Let them build! If you’re looking for ways to offer simple STEM programming in your library, or if you’re looking for an avenue for engaging more school-age children, I hope you’ll give LEGO Club a try. If you’d like more information on how my library does LEGO Club (or other STEM programs, for that matter), don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on Twitter (@amyeileenk) or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). I can’t wait to hear how LEGO Club works for you and the children in your community.