Physical & digital play in lockdown: supporting my children’s playful learning at home
In this article, Rob Lowe, Head of Value Creation & Marketing at LEGO Ventures writes about the lockdown experience with his family, and how they have supported their children’s learning with both digital and physical play.
I’m likely in the minority of people who have had, on balance, a pretty positive experience of staying at home during lockdown. That’s not to say as a family we haven’t had our moments of rage, tears, and toys being hurled across the room — but we have certainly had a chance to really play together as a family for an extended period, and try and build that into the kids’ newly established home learning routine. Well when I say “newly established” and “routine”, what I really mean is “completely chaotic” and “bedlam” (I’ve realised that I made the right decision when I tore up my PGCE teacher training application after finishing school — I have an immense respect for teachers from this experience). On balance though, I have been surprised at how we have used this strange period to become closer as a family, and find new ways to keep ourselves stimulated and entertained.
Searching out new forms of social play
My oldest daughter (10) had already become a Minecraft mega-user prior to the COVID-19 period, setting up her own multiplayer worlds with her friends and beginning to dabble in Minecraft Realms. A couple of weeks after schools closed, she stated that she was missing it, and was going to rebuild it virtually with her friends in her class. So, her and a couple of friends set about recreating all the buildings and faculties in block-form, and they met for virtual “lessons” in the building. I’m not sure much actual learning actually went on, but the sense of togetherness and purpose they were able to achieve during a time of physical separation was pretty incredible (though they then proceeded to smash it up, but hey, at least the sentiment was there!).
And although our 10-year-old is certainly more digitally-centered these days, she still very much enjoys building with LEGO bricks. Toward the end of lockdown, her and her younger sister (8) decided to then build their “perfect” school together out of LEGO bricks as well — including a swimming pool, stables, and a pet dinosaur. For them creativity and role-playing are fluid — whether it’s with Minecraft or LEGO bricks.
From an educational perspective, platforms like Google Classroom and Pobble have come into their own — offering the ability for the kids and teachers to interact together and learn from each others’ work. Tools such as Purple Mash and Nessy have been vital to keep them motivated and focused on maths, spelling, and creative activities — and screen time has no longer become something that is rationed, but something that is now essential for them to learn and stay connected. Having said that, it has also become clear that no amount of digitally-enabled learning can take the place of physical, face-to-face communication, and that any future educational evolution will need to have aspects of both at its core.
Bending technology to their will
We also had two virtual birthday parties during lockdown, for our 10-year-old and 8-year-old. Both had a Harry Potter theme, and the kids managed to use the technology at their disposal to compensate for a lack of sugared-up sleepovers. Together with our 10-year-old, we created a Harry Potter quiz on Kahoot which was used as a way to “unlock” birthday presents one by one for every question she got right, and the 8-year-old demanded a fancy dress Zoom party full of wizards and witches. If lockdown had happened even five years ago, neither of these would have been possible. Our youngest (5-years-old) has also discovered Apple Arcade, and in between bouts of Netflix and terrorising our new chickens, she has been diving into Crossy Road Castle (also featuring chickens — possibly a theme here).
How COVID taught us how to play more as a family
Overall during the last three months we have explored new digital and physical ways to play together — we have built way more LEGO sets, tried out new board games, hatched some chicks and built a chicken run in the garden, taken up paddle-boarding, taught our oldest how to bake , and probably achieved a couple of years worth of playful learning activities into only a few months. This type of nutritious time together is hugely valuable and has definitely brought us even closer together, and for us is one of the positives coming through an uncertain time for everyone.