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Brick-Based School Counseling

By Derek Tulluck | September 2021

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Lego bricks are ubiquitous toys – and one of the most versatile tools for school counseling. With a simple tub of Lego materials, you have countless opportunities for hands-on, engaging and meaningful activities to support students’ social/emotional learning (SEL).

To provide elementary students with something different to encourage participation in a meaningful way, I considered how to use Lego materials to meet social/emotional needs, rather than just as a reward. I also came across the amazing world of Lego artists and the concept of using Lego bricks as an art medium. With a strong interest in integrating art activities into my work with students, I realized I could combine art and Lego bricks with SEL. This would support fun, purposeful activities to encourage creative expression and exploration of social/emotional topics. The result was incredible, and I haven’t looked back.

SEL exploration with Lego activities: Art and creative expression let students express themselves and explore concepts more easily than just through conversation. By using Lego bricks as an art medium to explore social/emotional topics in group sessions, students can reflect on topics as they are building and create meaningful structures to represent what they are thinking and feeling.

For younger students, this might as simple as building structures using certain colors to represent different emotions, such as red bricks for anger or yellow bricks for happiness. Older students might engage in something more complex, such as creating an obstacle course to represent challenges they are facing, or perhaps doing a mindfulness activity like building a mandala with Lego materials. Depending on your students’ social/emotional needs, Lego activities allow students to safely express their thoughts and feelings in an engaging and inclusive manner. (See specific suggestions at the end of this article.)

Student engagement and inclusion: I had struggled to have students open up and share emotions or thoughts on complex topics in small-group sessions, but providing space for them to build and reflect using Lego bricks unlocked amazing conversations. Not only are the Lego activities engaging, but it also creates a more inclusive environment where all students can express themselves and participate in meaningful ways. For students with limited English proficiency or different communication abilities, this opened up so many possibilities with hands-on strategies to explore social/emotional topics and less intensive language requirements to participate. Whether you are working with students on ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors standard B-SMS 2. Self-discipline and self-control, M 2. Self-confidence in ability to succeed, or a wide variety of other topics, including Lego materials can create structures that facilitate richer, more accessible discussions.

Necessary materials: You may be thinking “Lego sets are expensive.” Yes, some are, but you don’t need fancy sets, and you shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money – or any at all – to get started. A basic tub of Lego materials is really all you need, and if you don’t have some sitting around, ask friends, family, teachers or parents if they have unused Legos to donate. You can buy a new tub of bricks in the $30–$50 range that would work well for a typical small group and last for years. Extra Lego sets or characters can open up more possibilities, but tons of activities only require a basic set.

Health and safety considerations: The recent pandemic has brought an increased need for safety precautions and preventing the spread of germs. Fortunately, Lego materials are easy to clean and can be pre-sorted into individual baggies or clean small containers. After the activity, students can dump their used Lego materials into a container to be cleaned before being put back into baggies or clean, reusable storage containers for new sessions.

Lego activities are great for social distancing or even virtual sessions – students can work on activities individually in their own space and then display and discuss their structures with the group.

Building More Possibilities

School counselors can also use Lego materials with collaborative, project-based learning activities that support the active use of SEL skills. As students work together on a Lego activity, a variety of important skills are naturally embedded in the process, such as:
  • B-SS 2. Create positive and supportive relationships with other students
  • B-SS 7. Use leadership and teamwork skills to work effectively in diverse teams
  • B-SS 4. Demonstrate empathy
  • B-LS 3. Use time-management, organizational and study skills
Using a play-based approach lets students of all ages authentically practice and develop social skills, self-regulation and executive functioning skills. Incorporating Lego activities into your small groups or classroom lessons can offer students these beneficial opportunities for growth.

One of my favorite collaborative groups to run is an architecture group in which the students get to design something fun, such as theme park expansion, using Lego bricks. Throughout the process, students must work as a team (B-SS 6.), use communication skills (B-SS 1.), persevere to achieve goals (B-SMS 5.), assign tasks and use a variety of other project-management skills (B-LS 3.). After several weeks of learning to listen to others’ ideas, make decisions and assume responsibility for different components of the project, it is amazing to see students’ growth and pride as they show off their final project. These collaborative activities encourage relationship building, boost confidence and support skills for college and career readiness.

Another activity is creating social stories using Lego Minifigures. If you can get your hands on a few characters, another door of possibilities will be open to you. With characters, individuals or groups of students can build scenes, take photos and insert them into a slide deck on the computer to make fun and meaningful social stories for a variety of topics. As I have found, incorporating Lego materials into SEL can transform activities into something fun and exciting, which increases motivation and makes learning more enjoyable.

Derek Tulluck is an elementary school counselor, professor and the author of “Brick-Based Counseling” 1 and 2 from Youthlight.

Brick-Based Program: Topics and Activities

Here are sample Lego-based activities to try for various SEL topics:    

B-SMS 2. Demonstrate self-discipline and self-control: Feelings Robot – Students build a robot using Lego materials. Each color they include in their robot can represent a different emotion. For example, a robot that is mostly yellow with a few red and blue bricks might signify that a student is feeling happy overall but may be a bit angry or sad about something. Of course, the student determines what the colors actually represent.

M 2. Self-confidence in ability to succeed: Obstacle Course Challenge – Students build an obstacle course using Lego materials and then label each obstacle with a real-life challenge they are facing. Discuss strategies to maintain a growth mindset and demonstrate perseverance to overcome the obstacles.

B-SMS 10. Demonstrate ability to manage transitions and ability to adapt to changing situations and responsibilities: Treasured Memories – Students build a treasure chest using Lego materials and then discuss favorite or important memories after experiencing a loss.

B-SS 4. Demonstrate empathy: Garden of Kindness – Students build a garden using Lego materials and create different plants and flowers to represent various ways they can show kindness to others.    

B-SMS 7. Demonstrate effective coping skills when faced with a problem: Build and Breathe – Students build a tower using Lego materials but will do so slowly with their eyes closed, directing their attention toward feeling the shape of the bricks and then breathing out each time they connect a brick to the tower to focus on mindfulness.