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Tables are piled with Lego bricks, ready for kids to build with. Courtesy photo.




BrickFair

Join fellow Lego-lovers from all over the country at BrickFair, an annual Lego convention with displays, vendors, games and more. Brickfair is held in four U.S. locations, one of which used to be the Radisson in Manchester, but BrickFair New Hampshire will be replaced with BrickFair New England in 2016, to be held in Marlborough, Mass.
 
BrickFair New England
Where: Royal Plaza Trade Center, 181 Boston Post Road W., Marlborough, Mass.
When: Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 2016
Cost: $12 at the door
Visit: brickfair.com




Gaining STEAM
Learning benefits of Lego, from engineering to the arts

11/12/15
By Allie Ginwala aginwala@hippopress.com



 It’s not often that something created decades ago can be considered a trend in the present day, but the popularity of Lego has seen no sign of slowing down in the 21st century — in part because of how it’s being used. Incorporating Lego play as a learning tool has become prominent in recent years mainly due to the push toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and now STEAM (which adds the arts to the educational focus).

 
Lego trending
Ann Hoey, New Hampshire State Library youth services coordinator, said in a phone interview that a focus on STEM and the makerspace movement have really helped put Lego in the spotlight, especially in libraries. 
“In the children’s librarian world there's always been an interest in providing hands-on activities and then with the … interest in STEM programming, a lot of libraries have tried to develop more of those types of programs,” she said.
Within the makerspace movement, Hoey said, libraries can provide a place for people to engage in hands-on activities, from base-level building and crafts to advanced Lego projects using electricity and computer coding. 
Last year the Association for Library Services to Children and the Lego Foundation provided the state with 15 Junior Maker Space toolkits made up of 10,000 Lego pieces. The state library decided to distribute the kits to each of the state’s library coops and let them develop a system for sharing and integrating the kits into programming.
“What we found in some libraries, the Legos have been so popular that the library goes out and buys [more] or puts up a notice [asking for donations],” Hoey said. “Many libraries ... are doing all kinds of creative things.”
 
Breaking down the blocks 
So why is Lego more popular than other forms of building materials? It could be that the bricks are versatile, with a simple design equipped to become anything from a train to a fenced-in garden. It could be that the brand is constantly evolving with new accessories that appeal to a 5-year-old learning to build or an adult looking to relax after a long day.
When it comes to Lego play, there are myriad benefits. Depending on the style of play — independent or group, free-form or guided — kids can tap into and hone different skill sets.
“The written instructions, they allow kids to learn and listen and follow … but then there's the free-form building … [where] they’re creatively learning through play and working together in a group,” Grace Larochelle, youth services librarian at the Hooksett Public Library, said in a phone interview.
The Hooksett library’s Junior FIRST Lego League is a semester-long group project that integrates Lego building into a research project. Kids ages 6 to 9 divide into teams and work together on a group challenge. The session currently taking place looks at recycling. 
“They picked their own trash and researched what happens to it and created a Lego sculpture that describes the process of the evolution of that piece of trash and what happens and what can happen to it,” Larochelle said. 
At the end of the 12-week program, the teams create a poster board about their project and present it at an expo along with other groups in the state. 
“For kids 6 to 9 it's a great opportunity for them to work creatively within a group,” Larochelle said. 
She noted that a 6-year-old could learn a lot from an 8- or 9-year-old group member, challenging them and perhaps giving a boost in developing STEM skills. It’s also a chance for kids to learn how to handle a commitment and proper time management skills.
“It’s like any sport really,” Larochelle said. “You’re part of a team.”
“The cooperative play and the fact that it shows how to work together as a group and it probably stimulates different kinds of creativity, I think that's a real benefit to it,” Hoey said. 
Wendy Rowe, children’s librarian and assistant director at Barrington Public Library, received the makerspace kit from the state last year and decided to introduce a Lego program for their younger demographic. 
“We chose to encourage the kids to invent something and then tell us a story behind it,” Rowe said in a phone interview. “We wanted to know what motivated their creations behind it and then we displayed the items and it ended up a very positive program for us.”
Rowe said they wanted the program to have the kids “think beyond something you're playing with.” The library ties Lego building to stories to boost creativity and communication skills. At the end of each meeting, the kids line up to tell her their backstories. 
“Some of these children were quiet, but being in a group they become comfortable and they wanted to share with each other,” Rowe said. “When I was a child I never played with [Lego], but if I sit there and start stacking things they'll come over to help me and give advice and tell me how it could be.” 
After using the makerspace kit for a month, Barrington Public Library decided to keep the Lego programs running and asked for donations from the community. 
Sometimes Rowe will give the kids a small challenge — like build your name or make a throne for the ruler of the world you’re creating — but mostly she lets them lead and build their own stories (many of which include battles of good guys versus bad guys and fantasy worlds full of ray guns, she said).
“We are trying to emphasize that you don't need to have high-tech things, but you do need to encourage play, and I think [Lego] lend themselves to play as well,” Hoey said. 





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