THERE’S a place just for families who love Lego. It’s a themed cafe called Blokke where you can play with Lego or send your children for Lego Education, and it can be found in Citta Mall, Petaling Jaya.
TV host and producer Sheahnee Iman Lee and her husband Nazrudin Habibur Rahman bought over the cafe in April this year and just three months later they started Lego Education classes.
Sheahnee, who is also the director of marketing and events, explains that the whole purpose of Blokke is to offer Lego Education. “We want to introduce children to Lego and the amazing things you can do with it. For us, it’s about giving kids access to it,” she says.
Sheahnee and Naz have three children aged two, four and six. Like most parents, she and Naz used t rely a lot on gadgets to keep them entertained. However, they found that it affected their children’s ability to focus on books and other things that were not as fast-paced as TV and YouTube.
Being avid Lego fans, who not only love to build, but even build Lego on date night, Sheahnee and Naz decided to introduce it to their children.
“We saw that when they discovered Lego, they could sit there for three to four hours just focusing on one thing. It was great. For a four-year-old to sit down for four hours, examining, exploring, learning about instructions and learning about order is something amazing.
“So, we started exploring more about this concept called Lego Education. It is not learning how to build Lego, but rather using Lego as a tool for learning. So, Lego just becomes the medium to teach other things. We realised that the philosophy behind Lego Education is just brilliant,” said Sheahnee.
Learning through bricks
Lego Education is based on a four-C model which is:
Connect – This is where you connect what you know with new learning experiences.
Construct – They have to build it on their own.
Contemplate – After constructing, they have to look at it and think about how they can make it better, what kinds of problems this solution can be applied to.
Continue – The most crucial part because this is where you take the concept of what you have done and continue with it in other applications.
As one of its pillars is continuity, there isn’t a maximum age for Lego Education. You can continue learning and developing using Lego, explains Sheahnee.
“We thought that since our children had already developed a love for Lego that we could use it to help them learn about other things. So, my daughter started with a class called MoreToMath and she’s learning about Math through Lego. Prior to this she had a bit of a phobia about mathematics. She couldn’t really grasp why certain formulas worked out the way they did.
“But, by using Lego, which she already had a natural interest for, to learn about mathematics, she’s now developed an enjoyment for it.
“I saw the benefits for her and we decided to bring this concept to other children so that they too can experience that same enjoyment,” said Sheahnee.
What’s Lego Education?
Lego Education can be offered by any school or learning centre. Lego provides the framework and the brick sets, which cannot be bought through retail outlets. Sheahnee explains that Blokke’s facilitators learned the framework and from there, they developed their own course work.
According to her, Blokke is the only place that offers the complete Lego Education syllabus in Malaysia.
These are the classes offered by Blokke:
- Preschool – Duplo Play Class: For 1.5 to 4+
- LearnToLearn: 5+
- BuildToExpress: 6+
- StoryStarter: 7+
- MoreToMath: 6+
Additionally, there is Machines and Mechanisms, where kids learn robotics:
- Early Simple Machines: 5+
- Simple Machines: 7+
- Simple & Powered Machines: 8+
- Advanced Simple & Powered Machines: 10+
- Lego WeDo 2.0: 7+
- Lego Mindstorms … coming soon for those 11+
The classes are as their names suggest. LearnToLearn is where kids are first introduced to the smaller bricks. It is a starter course to introduce them to all the other classes that are available. It essentially teaches children that there are many ways to understand the same thing. According to Sheahnee, Lego Education tries to tell parents as well as children that there isn’t just one way to find an answer.
StoryStarter focuses on storytelling, literacy, reading, writing and public speaking. The bricks used for this course have bluetooth sensors in them that connect to an app on a tablet PC. When kids link up the bricks for a little story, the software develops that storyline on the tablet PC, and the children can later see what they have done.
“You might be able to buy the set directly from the distributor or online and give it to your child, but it would be pointless because the special part about it is not in the bricks. It’s how you use the bricks to teach. So, the course work that we’ve developed is the essential part. That’s where the teaching and the learning happens,” says Sheahnee.
According to her, Lego Education is used in the national syllabus in the US and Singapore, where it has become part of the curriculum. While schools here can also do the same, the initial investment is sizeable.
“Subconsciously they are learning how to build. We want to teach them that there’s no right or wrong way for building; they will learn on their own that there are some ways that are more effective than others,” reveals Sheahnee.
As for the robotics classes, Sheahnee is convinced that Lego Education offers something more than what is offered in regular programmes which are widely available.
“The key here is problem-solving and learning to develop your own solutions. When we talk about Lego Education, we are focusing on balanced brain learning. What we have in our education system in Malaysia is very left brain type of learning. You are taught how to do certain things, you follow and you get the answer. So, when you have a lot of kids who are doing rote learning, for example, you’ll see that they all come up with the same solution because that’s how they’ve been taught to do it. In a lot of robotics classes that are available in the market, children go to class, they get the instructions, they learn to build from the instructions, and they all build the same thing.
“Why we start here at the age of five with Early Simple Machines is because we want to give children the tools to be able to develop their own solutions. So, we’re focusing on the right brain approach. The left brain approach is necessary because you still need to learn about order and how certain things work, but the key here is the right brain approach to innovation and invention, and that is what is severely lacking in our education system right now,” she adds.
Currently, Blokke has two facilitators who are spearheading the courses. They are extremely passionate about Lego Education and they are also the ones who developed the courses.
According to Sheahnee, one of the challenges that Blokke faces is getting children and parents to see things from a different perspective.
Malaysian children are generally used to being told how to do things. So, it takes time for them to understand that they need to find their own solutions, and figure out how to do it.
Educating parents is another challenge. “It’s something very new for people. I spend a lot of time explaining how it works because parents are accustomed to just one way of doing things. They keep asking me, so at the end of the class, what is my child going to show me? That’s not the point. At the end of the day, you need time to let your child gain confidence and the ability to develop these things. It’s called develop for a reason. It takes time for them to establish those skills.”
The classes are kept small so that the facilitators can assess each child better and customise how they teach each one according to their personality and needs (whether they need more right or left brain development).
The classes tend to have more children on weekends because children are in school and parents have no time to send them to Blokke on weekdays. However, there are also parents who prefer sending their children on weekdays, knowing that they will get more attention because of the fewer students.
Kids just love Lego
Blokke’s youngest student is 18 months old and its oldest is a teenager. Sheahnee explains that for very young children, parents are advised to be within the vicinity, in the event that a diaper change is needed.
Each class lasts two hours and parents are not allowed in the classroom.
“It has been found that children behave differently when their parents are in class with them. What they build when parents are there is different from what they build when they are on their own,” she reveals.
Each class is two hours long because there needs to be an element of play in the learning. As such, there should be enough time for play, learning and thinking.
“You need to give them time to play because it’s essential. If it’s one hour of solid learning, kids will lose interest fast. Two hours go by in a breeze and we have kids who after two hours don’t want to go home. They want more. It’s not unusual for us to see kids sitting here for three to four hours,” she adds.
Blokke wants to expand its floor space so that more classes can be held on weekends. Sheahnee also mentions wanting to start an after-school programme in schools.
She reveals that the Lego Education classes are a test run. In the long run, she and Naz want to take these courses to the less fortunate kids in rural areas, who have limited access to things like Lego.
Sheahnee also wants to explore using Lego Education to help autistic children improve their skills. “Lego in autism therapy is slowly picking up in America. Our facilitator has also worked with autistic children using Lego Education. He is currently developing a course so that we can reach out to Nasom (National Autism Society of Malaysia).
“Lego is also currently being developed as a rehabilitation tool. For example, for stroke patients who have lost their fine or even gross motor skills. We are hoping to rope in some physiotherapists and develop something where we can train them to use Lego in therapy.
“There’s so much out there that we can do with Lego as a tool. So, it becomes a means and not the end,” she explains.