For over 30 years, the LEGO Group has been putting a quarter of their after-tax profits into the LEGO Foundation. “Our contribution to the world is to challenge the status quo by redefining play and reimagining learning,” is the foundation’s mission statement. Through partnerships with MIT, Harvard, and Cambridge University, the LEGO Foundation wants to show the world just how vital play is in childhood development. From advancing sustainability with LEGO bricks made of biodegradable sugarcane to providing financial backing for the free educational coding platform Scratch, LEGO leads the way in creating global conversations about the importance of play in childhood development.
The theory that play-based learning is essential to development pushes back against an emphasis on the formal schooling of numeracy and literacy. Governments want to create a highly educated workforce that can compete in the global marketplace, but the push to begin a structured education early in life to produce quantifiable results completely ignores the essential neurocognitive scaffolding that can occur only through play. The LEGO Foundation is hoping that the MIT Media Lab’s research into creativity and free play will produce measurable results that show just how crucial play is.
In service to their mission, the LEGO Foundation has provided financial support to the Scratch Foundation for over a decade. Scratch is one of the top coding platforms that educators prefer for kids. They describe their collaborative online community as a space where you create your own interactive stories, games, and animations. From the Scratch website:
Our mission is to provide all children, from all backgrounds, with opportunities to imagine, create, and collaborate – so they can shape the world of tomorrow.
Scratch is free and open-source, reaching millions of kids in 196 countries and over 70 languages, with 45 percent of their users being female. A project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch 3.0 went live in 2019. The newest version provides even more opportunities for kids to learn important strategies for solving problems through systematic reasoning. They learn how to design projects in collaboration with others and communicate ideas in a playful and creative online environment. New language translation blocks in Scratch 3.0 also allow for greater cross-cultural connections.
Scratch delivers access to data that the MIT Media Lab uses to research how kids learn and create through different types of play. This is data that could change the way the children of tomorrow learn. Hanne Rasmussen, head of the LEGO Foundation says one of their definitions of play is a playful state of mind in which, she says, “you are open and try different things and are in a positive flow.” The power of play has been ephemeral and difficult to analyze scientifically, but longitudinal studies are beginning to show strong evidence that play is essential to fulfilling our potential.
We were all created to create; humanity’s ability to playfully think outside the box is what has lead to every scientific breakthrough. Play teaches us to the explore the outer reaches of our abilities and go beyond them; not for a buck, but for the simple beauty of creating a new thing.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. Do your children spend less or more time in creative play than you did as a child? Why?
2. What are some things you learned through play as a child?
3. What are some local initiatives in your community that support the value of play?