Words by Hanne Boutrup, images supplied by LEGO DUPLO.

One of the most basic but fundamental skills of working today is having this ability to think creatively.

Any adult in any profession knows everyday you have to think up new ways of doing things and new solutions, because you’ll rarely find a way that fits every situation. This is why it’s so imperative we equip our kids with the right tools from a young age to develop the skills they will carry throughout their lives; and play is the building block for becoming an effective creative thinker.

As an adult, we construct things through constructing knowledge in our head. You figure out there could be one way of doing it or there could be fifteen. You try it out, re-do it and reflect, and build again; each time makes you broaden your perspective to find the most effective solution. For young kids, this process is learnt through play as they haven’t developed the ability to process information just in their head. Just as adults do in their head, kids will use tools like DUPLO to construct and reconstruct, and through trial and error will find a solution.

​Tip 1: Sit down on the floor with the kids and use a story that is the starter. Perhaps a story about two friends who live on opposite sides of the river that want to meet up, how can you build something that will help them? This will spark your child’s imagination as they think on what to build to help them. The more variety of bricks you have the greater your imagination will be. Different brick sizes and colours are also very inspirational.

Play: Cognitive skills

Any parent will know the experience where you watch the moment your child figures out how to fit the DUPLO together. They will sit and fiddle with bricks and through trial and error use their intuition to figure it out. Each time they build, they are able to transfer the knowledge learnt through their play and start to construct more complex structures each time. This process of play is how kids learn and develop the most fundamental cognitive skills that we as adults use every single day. Equipping them with the right tools is critical to this process, and building bricks such as DUPLO is, for me, one of the best, if not the best.

Tip 2: A good exercise that demonstrates this learning experience is asking them to build a bridge. Once they’ve built it once, it becomes a natural reflection for them next time they need to build it – they learn a bridge has to go over, it has to be stable and it’s a structure. Building out of DUPLO is literally building their experience and this is something that you cannot explain to kids in any other way than learning through making.

Storytelling: developing the skill

This is by far one of the most important skills we need in life, and equipping kids with the right tools from a young age is imperative. Storytelling is a big part of our imagination. Think about your everyday life, how many times a day do you have to explain things to other people? Or needing the ability to sell in any ideas you come up with through explanation. That ability to actually structure a story where there’s a beginning, middle and an end, so it’s clear for everyone else, holds their attention and most importantly convinces them it’s something worth listening to is such an important part of our communication, and not something everyone is skilled at.

We don’t learn from a blank screen, we learn from things that inspire us. Knowledge is built by adding on top of something you already know or from satisfying curiosity. This is where storytelling is so crucial for kids to build these vital skills. A story doesn’t spring out of nothing it is inspired by something, and it’s about kick starting it.

Take the DUPLO box for example, the pictures on the outside may spark the story. From there, it’s about working with kids to encourage them to continue telling it through their play and guiding them to solve problems they face throughout. It’s helping their imagination by thinking up a story, finding inspiration through their building on how the story unfolds.

Developing effective communication skills

Learning descriptive language is a whole other language development skill. What do I call this shape? How do I tell someone else to put it in that? That descriptive language and being very accurate about things, being able to understand instructions from others and listen to it or asking a clarifying question back.

It might seem like a basic skill for you now, but it’s something kids are yet to develop. I’m sure every parent has experienced the frustration of not being able to understand because kids cannot explain effectively, but for them, play is the most important way they develop their language and lean to be very specific with their language.

We don’t learn from a blank screen, we learn from things that inspire us. Knowledge is built by adding on top of something you already know or from satisfying curiosity.

Just to demonstrate the importance of developing effective descriptive language skills, think about how many times you’ve left a meeting at work feeling puzzled by what was just said, and turning to colleagues and asking them “what was that all about”. Learning this skill from a young age will benefit kids throughout their whole life.

Tip 3: There is a great exercise you can do with kids to help build and refine their storytelling skills through developing skills in descriptive language. You each need seven identical blocks, and sitting back to back, your child creates a build. From there, they need to help you to build the same thing they have through explaining it to you.

Repeat the process, each time providing feedback to your child on how they can refine their description (for example teaching them how to describe a brick with a curve and the direction it needs to face) that will help guide you through the build and each time they will learn how best to solve the problem.

Math and creative thinking

This is one area of creative play that DUPLO is probably the most effective tool I’ve worked with because it is both creative and systematic at the same time. It’s a range of things from a visual tool to help understand fractions, to identifying colour patterns and stacking them as a representation of numbers; there is just so many basic math problems that are made easier to understand with bricks.

This process of play is how kids learn and develop the most fundamental cognitive skills that we as adults use every single day.

Most children all over the world are intuitive; it’s not difficult to put bricks on a building plate and to build rows of four and rows of five, but understanding this as a representation of a number is not something that comes naturally for kids. All parents will be able to relate to kids pointing to items and miscounting there are eight items when there are only five. This is because kids can’t connect numbers by pointing, they need an item to associate with a number. Building bricks helps kids to make connections between the bricks they are stacking and the number they are up to, eventually understanding what five looks like as opposed to 10 and so on.

Tip 4: Kids are very visual in how they learn, so next time there is a math problem you are trying to explain, use aids like DUPLO to demonstrate and help them understand. It could be basic things that are easy, up to building fractions and equations. The whole DUPLO system is like a mathematical system, which is in itself wonderful.

Science and technology

Looking at the problem of building a bridge, when constructing it, you need to consider that it needs to be stable enough for someone to step on it. Then if you were to build a high bridge it would differ from what you have to consider for a long bridge. That whole science thinking is inbuilt in LEGO DUPLO. The understanding of how you make things stable or build different structures is like basic engineering. It’s a science that kids can understand - these two halves make a whole and I put that in here because it fits. It’s all about science and structures.

Tip 5: This one is as simple as giving kids scenarios and asking them what they would construct to help solve the problem. Thinking about builds that require thought on stability for differing heights, strength to bear the weight of a car or a person, etc and help them understand along the way how they can improve the structure. Building a bridge is probably the most simple way to help build this understanding, but give them different scenarios to consider. For example, ask them to build a bridge that needs to be tall, one that needs to be short, one that needs to be wide enough to fit a truck.

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Hanne Boutrup

Play expert

Hanne Boutrup is a Danish Play Expert, with more than 20 years experience across 56 countries. She has worked closely with numerous experts to develop targeted workshops that put theory into practice. Through her extensive knowledge and experience in the area she has found that children’s building bricks, such as DUPLO, is the most effective tool she has worked with for kids to build the most fundamental skills during childhood.

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