LEGO Programming for Teens

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LEGO Programs in the library. You see them all the time. The little kiddos get super excited building their towers and as librarians (and parents), we know that we are offering them something that is helping them work on problem solving and hand/eye coordination skills. (There you go again, ninja librarians sneaking education in with fun!) But what about LEGO programs for teens? Would that be so far out there?

It’s not like once kids hit that magic age of thirteen they stop wanting to play with LEGOS. Sure, they may feel peer pressure to put away “childish toys” and take on more grown up endeavors. However, I would find the teens taking long, leisurely walks past our programming room while the children’s department was having LEGO programs. Their eyes would look longingly at the little ones building with the brightly colored bricks of fun. It got the wheels in my head spinning. Why can’t I do a LEGO program for my teens? What was stopping me?

Turns out, the only thing stopping me was my own preconceived limits. The teens were very receptive to the idea! Once I knew that they were on board, I wanted to create a program that was fun but also met the growing educational and social needs of a teen audience. This was going to be a little more than just providing a couple of bins of LEGO bricks and setting the teens loose!

I decided to design a LEGO program for teens called LEGO Block Party. Teens aged 11 to 14 were invited to join us to learn about engineering concepts in an exciting and new way. Building with LEGO bricks is fun, but even the simplest creation requires planning and thought. Teens were encouraged to create their own unique structures using LEGO blocks to experiment with and learn the basics of structural engineering. They were asked to keep certain questions in mind while building: Will your creation be balanced and able to stand? If it is tall, will it be structurally sound? What can you add or change to make your structure more durable?

When teens entered the room, they were asked to choose a build station. They were given 10 to 15 minutes to free-build in order to see what was available in the LEGO bins and on the share table. The bins had assorted LEGO blocks and the share table had additional building supplies such as wheels, windows, doors, etc. Items on the share table needed to be returned to the share table at the end of the session. Teens enjoyed the free build- time, as they were able to explore with no limits while socializing with other like-minded teens.

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Following the free-build period, we did some timed building challenges. This was a time of great enthusiasm and competition! Teens really wanted to be the first ones done with the best product. I would give the teens a building prompt and they would have a certain amount of time to complete the challenge. We started with a 15 minute challenge and worked our way to a 1 minute challenge. It was as much fun for me as it was for the teens to see what they were able to come up with in these timed challenges! The following is a small sample of some building prompts:

  • Build a piece of furniture (chair, couch, table, bed, etc)
  • Build a mode of transportation (car, plane, motorbike)
  • Build something to eat
  • Build something you would find outside
  • Build an animal
  • Build a tower
  • Build with one color
  • Build a story
  • Build with only 50 bricks

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Following the timed challenges, we did smaller challenges such as “Build the tallest tower” or “Build a bridge that will hold the most weight”. We would test these structures by measuring the height with a ruler and testing the amount of weight the bridges could hold with books. The teens enjoyed these challenges that compared their structures against their peers. For the winners of these challenges, I let the teens choose a small prize from my candy basket.

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Following the challenge portion of the program, teens were allowed more free-build time. During this time, they were allowed to build alone or with other teens. They were able to roam freely around the room and socialize. It was amazing to see the comraderie among the teens. They worked together to brainstorm ideas and make them come alive! It was truly an amazing sight to see.

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If you haven’t already tried LEGO programming for teens at your library, give it a try! You might think that your teens will be resistant. They will think that you are trying to offer them a program for little kids. But once you open the door, they will love it! Who can resist those bins of primary colored plastic? Not only are you giving them the OK to play and have fun, but they are using the mathematical and analytical parts of their brain to engineer structures that will withstand the forces of gravity. Whoa…can you say STEM? Just don’t tell them that. Enjoy!

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