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Legos, The Lego Movie & Vision Development

I can’t tell you how excited my kids and I are about The Lego Movie! If you haven’t already seen it a bunch of times, here is the trailer.

Here is the backstory – LEGO® products played big role in my childhood- first as toys and then more as versatile structural elements of engineering and science projects. When my mom told me she sold my entire collection (a full Hefty sack worth) for $10 at a yard sale, I was very sad indeed.

Somehow in the process of getting multiple degrees and learning to be a business owner (i.e. growing up), I had lost touch with LEGO® fun. And it wasn’t like I was missing them – my world just didn’t contain them. But now that I have kids AND live close enough to LegoLand Florida to make it a frequent day trip, I am re-connected with the bricks and having a wonderful time.

I am also glad to discover that while I haven’t thought much about LEGO® products, they haven’t stopped. Oh my, how much they have changed since my youth! There are hundreds of mini-figures, different themes, games, and many, many cross-branded sets. Yet the basic brick remains fun and functional.

Lego minifigs

It has been fascinating playing with Legos with my kids. Not only because it is fun, but because I know a lot more now about child development. Truly, the sets are wonderful because while they come in box that requires following directions in an orderly fashion, after that, the fun and explorations are truly unlimited.

As a pediatric optometrist, I also keep some mini-figures in the exam room. Not only are they fun to trade (bring some!), but they also are good to use during the exam as fixation targets for little ones. Recently, I have started to use these bricks in the vision therapy room as well for their developmental value.

Here are some of ways that LEGO® products support visual development:

  • Visual Discrimination – Let’s face it – the studs are small. You really have to pay attention to visual detail to find the one you are looking for. And the mini-figures (and especially their accoutrements) have subtle details that give them personality. While most children naturally are able to distinguish these details (such as ones with amblyopia), some need to be motivated to really TRY to see those details.
  • Form Distinction – When looking for the right brick, it makes a big difference if you are looking for a one that is straight, and if you pick one that is curved or tapered, it simply will not work as well. You will learn by trial and error that it is more efficient to look at the shape first before trying to build with it.
  • Color Distinction – Bricks come in MANY colors. The Duplo® bricks come in primary colors that may be used for teaching the names of colors. The newest LEGO® come in dozens and dozens of colors, and you really have look to distinguish green from dark green, for example.
  • Visual Figure Ground – Figure ground processing means sorting out the important details from the background noise. Is there anything more challenging that looking through hundreds of bricks to find the perfect one?. Doing this efficiently requires visual strategies of scanning for details such as color, size, shape, and texture, and it does take practice. How many times have you heard, “I can’t find his special hat anywhere!” or a similar statement from your child when he can’t find it seconds. This is Visual Figure Ground.
  • Visual Planning – LEGO® building is more sophisticated than it may look. I have been told by parents that some kids are builders and some are players. Both require strong visualization – seeing in the mind’s eye what the final outcome will be and then making it happen. Very few people build haphazardly by randomly attaching bricks – they plan what they want to build, begin, and then modify as needed to accommodate a brick shortage or structural inadequacy. Think of how the Master Builders visually plan their huge projects!
  • Visual Motor Integration – Most people think of this as “eye-hand coordination”. Once you have envisioned what your project will look like, your hands have to make it happen. And if you make a mistake, your eyes have to tell your brain what is wrong and what needs to happen to fix it. And some of those bricks require some serious strength to remove. At least now we have the Brick Separator!

All of the above are reasons why LEGO® products are good for visual development. But let’s not forget the most important one – they are fun! Kids learn through play. And the more fun they are having, the more creative they become. The more they can challenge themselves, then the more they will learn. Our brains absorb more via novel repetition, and the novelty never ends with unlimited play.

So if it has been a while since you have gotten down on the floor to build with your kids – just do it! It will be good for them, and you will be amazed what they can come up with! And then in February go see the movie!

And don’t forget to support the Glasses! board book on Kickstarter!

Dr. Nate

By Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care