Dad's 8 LEGO Tips
In this video, Mark Riccobono, who is blind and President of the National Federation of the Blind, spends some quality time with his son, Austin, who is sighted. Together they share a common LEGO language they developed that enables them to build anything they want — together!
Watch how it's done!
Dad's Top 8 Tips
- 1. Start simple: My son is nine now, but when he started building with LEGOs, we didn't worry about following instructions; we simply stacked up LEGOs any way we wanted.
- 2. Develop a common language: As my son got older, he wanted to buy complex sets that had a specific objective — a car, a building, a Star Wars X-Wing — and we had to overcome the barrier that the visual instructions presented to me. We gradually developed a common language to identify pieces and to position LEGOs in their correct location.
- 3. Share a common orientation: One important pattern in developing a common language is to agree on how you will refer to the orientation of the basic object being built. So, for example, once we agree on which end of the building plate is the top and bottom, as well as left and right, we can easily give and receive verbal directions.
- 4. Build spatial awareness skills: Encourage children to count studs from a particular location, e.g., five studs from the corner, rather than grabbing, pushing, or pulling their hands toward that spot. Hands need to be free to move freely and purposefully about, so the child can begin to understand spatial relationships.
- 5. Turn visual instructions into words: Building with LEGOs is the perfect opportunity to teach a child how to follow directions verbally, even quite complex ones. Instructions presented verbally build good listening skills! Further enhance the learning by asking your blind child to communicate verbal or written instructions to you.
- 6. Intentionally point out patterns: I can often anticipate the next piece that needs to go into place because I have learned to pay attention to patterns — a key skill that transfers into other aspects of life. For example, most LEGO building projects build a layer at a time, from the bottom up. If we intentionally point out common building patterns, our children will begin to seek them out for themselves — thus expanding their ability to create independently.
- 7. Identify common techniques: There are common techniques that can be identified when building different sets. We were given a LEGO set of the Empire State Building that was fairly easy to build because the same techniques were used multiple times in the same set. Knowing that each side of the building would match, for instance, made it easy to anticipate the next move.
- 8. Fool around, try stuff!: We need to create opportunities for our blind children to learn to simply build with LEGOs. Let them experiment and try things. The beauty of LEGOs is, if it's built wrong, you can always rebuild it!
Let's Start a LEGO Revolution
I have had many experiences building with LEGOs, both as a child and now as a parent of three beautiful children. So I was shocked to discover that a group of blind students attending a National Federation of the Blind Science program had never been given the experience of building with LEGOs! These were bright students working on some pretty complex science projects, and yet, the patterns of building were completely a mystery to them.
LEGOs are a good example of the visual bias that creates low expectations for blind people. Perfectly matching the colors of the LEGO bricks, or following visually based directions, should not be the determining factor in becoming a master builder. The ability to discover patterns, the opportunity to imagine and build through hands-on exploration, and the development of effective communication skills are far more important skills than following simplified visual instructions.
I encourage you to join me in creating a new LEGO revolution for the blind. To quote the great builders from the LEGO movie, "Everything is awesome when you are part of a team."