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Play excites our big beautiful brains to create pathways for new learning experiences.

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

In the lull of the mid-winter season, MidWest memories fill my head with snow-filled days, frigid temperatures, and outdoor play of ice skating and hockey on the big Mississippi River. When I lived

in Minnesota from 2005-2016. we went retro style and built our own outdoor skating rink on the big ole’ Mississippi River, as we had amazing access to an inlet bay that our home was situated on in Brownsville, MN.

Please note, this is also a small rural riverfront town with a population of 517, so life was interesting with limited access to resources, yet we always found ways to create memorable learning experiences for our family. To heighten these authentic learning experiences with my children, we strung and attached twinkly lights onto the outdoor skating rink, so our entire family and the kids’ friends could skate at night. Oh….. those were the days and the memories we made were priceless.

Now, I just found out that my oldest son Ryan just purchased hockey skates for granddaughter (Madelyn Ann - 7) and grandson (Nolan Jack 4) back in Wisconsin. I was beaming ear to ear with smiles when I heard the news, and my heart was filled with joy as all my three sons also experienced this wonderful sport for their entire childhood and now into their adult lives. This is a very proud grandparent moment, as is like a rite of passage to carry on this great outdoor sporting activity to the grandkids.

Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person - mind and body, intelligence and creativity, spontaneity and intuition. ~ Viola Spolin - American Theater Teacher - 1906-1994

Over this winter break I had the opportunity to open up and explore the new “LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential.” To my pleasant surprise and discovery I unveiled so many movement and STEM build possibilities, and the perfect tie in to outdoor winter sports of play. I first explored and played with the “"LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential” set. The weighted brick was the perfect compliment to create and make the ultimate swinging catapult to perfect my skills related to forces, interactions with motions. My 4/5th grade teacher instinct sprung into action instantly, as I thought this was the perfect learning experience to enhance a 2nd-5th grade NGSS unit of study on forces and motions. Oh my... the possibilities I was thinking….

Play is the highest form of research - Albert Einstein - 1879-1955

As I continued onward with the “LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential,” and I opened each package and sorted the bricks sets into color coded categories. I felt like I was a kid in the candy store again with all the choices of vibrant colors of the LEGO bricks and the physical feel of the LEGO bricks. I really took my time to review all the materials and was enthralled with the outdoor sporting activity accessories and LEGO people. I felt like I just opened up an entire playground in a personalized learning box to experience STEM with a them of the winter olympics that was made just for me. This excited me so much! Yet I could not stop thinking of the outdoor hockey skating experiences back in Minnesota….. and this is when I realized - I had an idea of wha I could create!

"No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World." – Robin Williams

My idea focused on how I wanted to recreate the special feeling and learning experience from my past and make it come to life with these new “LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential” sets. Utilizing the ideation and prototyping engineering design process and Innovators Compass mindset, I sketched out a plan, brainstormed and bounced some ideas off of my family members, discussed some possibilities of how to recreate our Minnesota hockey rink into a replica miniature model on the Mississippi River with the LEGO brick sets. I decided to tap into my holiday decorating supplies and resources, which I was just in the middle of taking down and thought…. hey wait a minute…. I could use our tree skirt as a blanket of snow…. and I could use my Joy, Hope and Wish Christmas boxes as a backdrop for a grandstand. Yet what do I simulate the hockey rink and the twinkly lights effect? Could aluminum foil work as the ice visualization? Could I use the twinkly lights from my Christmas mantle candle sets or could I incorporate a Makey Makey kit to create my own electrical circuit to simulate the lights with my LEGO people? The possibilities are endless, and my creative brain mindset found its happy place.

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. ~ Abraham Maslo - Psychologist (1908-1970)

I devised a plan, and started creating the physical landscape I envisioned. My Christmas tree skirt worked wonderfully to replicate a blanket of snow, yet I struggled with the aluminum foil to use as the skating surface, as I wanted to create a water like reflection effect of ice, yet it was too shiny. I then thought for a moment, and then discovered perhaps I could free hand draw the outlines of the hockey rink, and the lines and the face-off circles. Yet I wanted something more sturdy. I knew I had heavier weighted printing paper from one of my last teaching projects, so I sought out a printable hockey rink template by doing a quick Google search, and sure enough I found one that was simple and perfect. I then printed off the hockey rink template, and cut it to size from the heavy weighted white paper.

I then proceeded to set up the LEGO people and accessories to give it the look and feel of an authentic outdoor hockey skating rink in action, and of course adorned with twinkly lights. I took extra special attention and detail to set-up the LEGO people with hockey sticks, a puck, safety helmets and the goal nets. Yet I needed an element of surprise or that perfect touch, so I built a zamboni! A zamboni is a machine used to resurface ice for skating, yet I wanted to add this design element as a surprise for an interesting conversation piece. But I also needed an audience of spectators from a grandstand stadium view to watch the hockey game. So on top of the Christmas wooden boxes, I placed a few spectators that included natural wildlife that were included of a wolf, German Shepard dog and a bunny rabbit - can you find them all as they camouflage themselves in the natural elements in the pictures below? And of course one has to include the iconic element of a hockey trophy, as there is always a winner. I was absolutely beside myself with recreating this memory that filled my heart with the goodness of positive family memories, and how my own grandchildren are continuing on the family legacy of ice skating and their love for hands-on creative STEM play with LEGO's too.

The world of pretend play is one in which children can be free to express themselves, their ideas, their emotions, and their visions of themselves, of other people and of the world.

~ Sandra Russ -Psychologist

I shared my playful learning experience with building this LEGO hockey rink with my granddaughter Madelyn Ann last evening through audio, text and MarcoPolo video chats. She gave me some wonderful building pointers and insightful critical feedback on my LEGO build of my hockey rink. She could identify each of the animals as spectators and even the one in camouflage, and we discussed what this term meant to her and how she put it into perspective and context with the visual picture of my LEGO build. The STEM playful learning experience was so very beneficial to me to recreate these past memories, yet also to my granddaughter as we had such creative conversations of the playful possibilities of what we could change, modify and represent through motion and movement for next time when she spends time with me. As she really wants to build more action scenes in the snow of a bobsled run, ski jump and obstacle course and possibly a bunny hill for skiing for the little children.

Now to my heavenly surprise today - only 12 hours from my grand-daughters online conversations from the evening before, as I received some photos from my son and daughter-in-law of Madelyn Ann and Nolan Jack ice skating at the local outdoor skating rink adjacent to the Mississippi River. They wanted to create the real-life learning experience of iceskating for the very first time with their new hockey skates! WOW is all I thought, as one playful experience and meaningful conversation led to her and her entire family going out to experience the outdoor skating activity, and make the physical LEGO build experience a reality and come to life :-)

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. ~ Fred Rogers - 1928-2003

These new “LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential” kits are the perfect STEAM addition for K-8 schools and families to build a child's learning confidence, language development, and deeper understanding of STEAM exploration of physical science within a sports context. BricQ Motion also helps foster an understanding of forces, motion, and interactions by providing easy hands-on STEAM learning experiences, as they learn through play and plan and conduct investigations. Children can immediately apply their new gained STEAM understandings to their world around them, and be an active participant in their learning discoveries.

Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development for our "Littles" and elementary students. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or grandparent - such as Nana Naomi as a far-away grandparent in my case. Research has shown that it's these "back-and-forth conversation" is what improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen. This is why unplugged activities such as the “LEGO Education BricQ Motion Essential” kits are so very beneficial for today's children, as they help provide brain friendly hands-on learning experiences through student agency, while building their life long learning confidence through purposeful play.

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman

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