Do you have LEGO® addicts in your home who are also interested in science?  What if those LEGO that get painfully underfoot could be awesome tools for learning physics, chemistry, and even coding? Read on to learn how you can use LEGO to tap into your child’s interests, grab their attention, and help them learn science! 

Why LEGO?

Of all the toys that you could recruit as homeschooling tools, why LEGO? Here are a few reasons:

LEGO taps into kids’ interests

Whether your child enjoys the LEGO movies, themed sets, or open-ended building, it’s a great way to get cooperation and engagement when working on “school subjects”. If your child doesn’t want to put the LEGO down when it’s time for a new activity, you can just incorporate them into the activity.

LEGO can sustain a child’s attention for long periods

I’ve met many kids who could play with LEGOs for hours! Having objects to physically manipulate can help kids to focus and model what they’re learning in a hands-on way.

LEGO are reusable and durable

You can build and rebuild with them as many times as you’d like. They don’t dry out, shatter, or splinter. They’re also easy to clean!

You’ve already spent the money on LEGO

You can use what you’ve already bought as manipulatives and hands-on modeling tools. While you can splurge on dedicated sets for specific content areas, you may get more mileage out of challenging your kids to get creative the pieces already in your collection.

Check out Part 2: History is Better with LEGO: 5 MORE Ways to Use Bricks in Your Home School 
and learn about exploring all things history—from archaeology and cultures to
geography and map skills—with LEGO!   

What are LEGO good for?

There are many ways to use LEGOs in your homeschool, so this post is going to focus on incorporating LEGO into science by:

  • Exploring Classification
  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) Challenges
  • Modeling scientific phenomena and environments
  • Modeling Chemistry
  • Coding and Programming

Exploring classification

LEGO comes in a bewildering array of sizes, shapes, and colors. An easy science activity would be to take a pile of them and have your child sort them into groups! Here’s an example with printables that guides the child on how to sort LEGO, but you can also leave it open-ended.

Just as there are many potential ways to classify things in the natural world, your child can explore the many ways to group LEGOs. Does it make sense to sort them by set? By color? By shape? Multiple characteristics?
Older children can think about their LEGO in evolutionary terms and set up a cladogram. Have them start with a “common ancestor” and group the LEGO according to shared evolutionary traits.

LEGO Cladogram – The cladogram begins with the flat gray square, branching off into flat pieces of different shapes and colors. From there, pieces branch off according to how their characteristics differ.

STEAM challenges

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) is more than just a new educational buzzword – it’s a great way of thinking about design, technology, and innovation in a hands-on way. Kids get to problem solve, invent, and explore materials in a way that’s very motivating and open-ended.

STEAM can be incorporated into your formal science curriculum, but it doesn’t have to be linked to a particular content outcome to be valuable.

Want to get more hands-on, multi-sensory learning happening in your home school?
Read “Create A Makerspace For STEM In Your Homeschool” and learn how. 

Challenges with bricks you already have

Pinterest is chock full of amazing looking STEAM projects with LEGO. I would encourage you to start out by challenging your kids to use the pieces you already have in their designs. Here are some examples:

  • Bridges – Challenge your kids to build a bridge that will hold different amounts of cargo and/or span the longest distance.
  • Boats – Can you design a boat that can carry the largest amounts of cargo?
  • 2-D mazes – Use a baseplate and arrange LEGO so that you can guide a car, marble, or magnet through the maze.
  • Marble runs – Similar to the maze idea, but adding in the element of gravity!
  • Gravity rollers – Can your kids build a contraption that rolls continuously?
  • Zipline challenge – Design a car that can travel on your homemade zip line for one mini-figure, then see if you can make the vehicle bigger to accommodate more passengers!
  • Balloon powered car – A fun engineering challenge!

Modeling scientific phenomena and environments

Here’s a great way to incorporate LEGO into your science curriculum: using them to represent and visualize what your children are learning. This could substitute for making a diagram or clay model, or work as a nice supplement as a review.

For “reluctant artists” like my son, having the opportunity to model phenomena in LEGO is great! He feels confident building with them, doesn’t get messy and feels like he’s “playing” while he’s learning about each topic.

  • Layers of the Earth – This example shows a general cross-section.
  • Landforms – Jumping off the idea of LEGO Earth layers, you could build a continental shelf and oceanic plate, or any landform your kids are learning about. Then, put your model in a bin and add water to simulate the oceans, lakes, or rivers. It’d be like making a landform model out of clay, but with LEGO! Here’s an example: Types of mountains
  • Soil layers – You can research different soil profiles and build each one, then compare and contrast! Example 1, Example 2
  • Other phenomena involving layers – Ocean layers
Ocean Zones by The Usual Mayhem
5 Types of Mountains from Layered Soul
Little Bins for Little Hands – LEGO Soil Layers
Little Bins for Little Hands – LEGO Earth Layers

There are so many things that you can model with LEGOs! From the very large, we move on to the very small…

Modeling Chemistry

Chemistry can be challenging for students to understand because it requires them to visualize how tiny particles interact and combine. LEGO are a great way for them to visualize how atoms and molecules “fit together” to form various compounds and generate reactions.

The resources provided by the Edgerton Center at MIT are amazing! Here’s their lesson for ages 11+ on modeling ocean chemistry with LEGO. The lesson includes a printable PDF showing different colors assigned to different elements, as well as mats to lay out normal ocean chemistry and ocean acidification. Other modules include Understanding Air, Photosynthesis, and Chemical Reactions.

Coding and Programming

If your child is interested in technology, you may find a use for LEGO in coding and programming activities.

  • Secret Codes with LEGO Blocks – This is a fun warm-up activity for coding, as well as an opportunity for spelling and reading practice! Little Bins for Little Hands has a more advanced version that introduces binary.
  • Coding a LEGO Maze – This activity introduces programming on paper, with the LEGO (or Duplo!) as the building component.
  • LEGO WeDo – This is a relatively new LEGO line of products that lets kids use an actual programming language on the computer, for kindergarten through 2nd grade age. It’s the warm up to their more advanced Mindstorms line. Note: It is an investment to get started, comparable to other electronics products marketed to kids.

Overall, LEGO are great for visual modeling, hands-on learning, and creativity! What will your kids build today?

Lisa is a homeschooling mom, science educator and curriculum developer with classroom experience ranging from pre-K students to 7th grade. After almost 20 years in traditional school settings, Lisa currently works as a curriculum consultant to schools and families. She also teaches weekend, after-school, camp programs, and graduate courses for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History. Lisa blogs at  Inquiring Minds Homeschool.