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6 Ways to Homeschool with Lego

The Popular Building Toy Has Lots of Educational Uses

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Lego, the plastic brick building toy popular with kids and adults alike, is not just for fun. The Lego Education website offers classroom packs that have been used by teachers for years. There's even a special page for homeschool products which contain enough for one family. Using Lego as a learning tool is a great way to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math -- STEM subjects -- and a lot more. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Engineering

Lego Truck
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More than one parent has told me that their child got started in engineering by playing with Lego. One dad says the gears and levers in Lego's Technic sets are even more useful in helping kids design complex machines. Technic sets can get expensive, but some regular retail sets such as Hero Factory use pieces from the Technic line (Compare Prices) as well.

2. Programming

If your kids are ready to go beyond building static models and want to get into electronics, the Lego Robotics sets have a ton of learning value. My son still uses his Mindstorms NXT sets when he's on break from college. The latest edition is Mindstorm EV3, available in the fall of 2013. Both sets come with programmable brain that can be used with a number of computer languages, along with sensors, motors, and wheels. The NXT has a robust community of fans, and the EV3 will be releasing curriculum to go with the new sets soon. For younger kids, Lego has the WeDo Robotics sets for ages 7-12, which can be programmed using drag-and-click icons.

3. Math

Homeschool parents have used Legos for demonstrating place value and multiplication in the same way you can use Cuisenaire rods. One mom had her kids use them to build models of their rooms and their house as part of lessons on scale, ratio, and local geography. In my family, as my first son got older and the sets he coveted grew more expensive, Lego became a good tool to introduce the concept of budgeting and saving.

4. Art and Illustration

Artists like Nathan Sawaya have been sculpting with Lego bricks for years. My younger son, not as technically minded as his brother, used Lego as an art medium too. He would take pieces from various sets and make his own scenes and characters. One of my favorite designs was my older son's War of the Worlds tripod, inspired by the Steven Spielberg film. It came complete with scruffy, baseball cap-wearing movie director riding on a camera crane. The name given to these unique pieces is My Own Creations, or MOC; you can see a nice selection by kids and older folk at MOCpages.com.

5. Reading, Writing and Storytelling

Lego book DK Reader
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Lego has a StoryStarters kit for educators, but you don't need a special kit to invent stories using Legos. A homeschooling mom I know says her ten-year-old just start writing an original comic strip using pictures he takes of his Lego in the Comics Creator iPad app. And to help kids build their reading skills, the DK Lego Readers (Compare Prices) come in levels from beginner to advanced. One of my kids was a faithful reader of the books from Lego's former Bionicle line.

6. Animation

When my older son was around eight or so, he decided he wanted to teach a workshop on making stop-motion animated films with Lego. He had already become quite skilled at shooting movement frame-by-frame, thanks to Lego Studios. Even more impressive was the suite of editing and special effects software that came with the set. My eight-year-old was doing high-level filmmaking that would have taken a crew of professionals only a few years before. Alas, Lego Studios is no more, but Legos are still an excellent tool for creating home animated videos using the many kinds of apps and software available today.

Disclosure: Review samples of Lego robotics products were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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