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Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015

Building to learn and play - Children construct lessons at library's Lego Club

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Eli Hasslen, 9, carefully selects a handful of plastic Lego bricks at the Le Mars Public Library's Lego Club. Eli is a Lego expert, according to his mother Jennifer Hasslen. To purchase this photo, log on to www.lemarssentinel.com.
It's zero degrees outside.

Class is about to begin on a January evening, and so far, about eight children have glided into the meeting room at the Le Mars Public Library.

Lisa Vander Sluis, the children's librarian, hosts the ever popular Lego Club.

It meets every other month.

"We usually get a lot more people," Vander Sluis said. "The cold must have kept people away."

The club provides children with an educational lesson using plastic multicolored bricks, which are notorious for stimulating their imaginations and hyperactivity.

"I usually pick a theme and then read a little something from a book and then have them create something to do with that theme of the book," Vander Sluis said.

She said the class usually attracts about 20-25 children, from kindergarteners to fifth graders, boys and girls.

Monday's theme was Lego Math.

The young students constructed numbers from the tiny interlocking blocks, including the symbols of the four operations of arithmetic: plus and minus signs, division and multiplication -- even the double horizontal bars of the "equals" sign.

Vander Sluis assigned different math problems of varying difficulty to children of different grade levels.

"Can you make 'twos' and 'threes'?" she asked the first graders in the group.

"I've never made Lego numbers in my life," a boy responded.

Vander Sluis quizzed children individually to see if they could provide the answer.

She asked kindergarteners to build "zeros" and "ones" to review addition.

"Did you find your 'one' yet, Beau?" Vander Sluis asked five-year-old Beau Heissel.

After he disassembled a handful of blocks, Heissel decided to build a skinny number "one."

He constructed a tower of bricks, then created a "zero."

"Beau, what's one plus zero?" Vander Sluis asked him.

"Two?" Heissel guessed.

Vander Sluis said she created the Lego Club a few years ago.

She has explored past themes of Christmas and restaurants, anything that encourages reading books from the library's collections.

"We had a series of books that was the beginnings of how M&Ms began or how McDonalds began," she said.

"It was a whole series, and they created their own restaurant."

Vander Sluis said she got the idea for Lego Club from colleagues at other libraries.

"It's been done in libraries for years," she said.

Staff at libraries around the country have cited research conducted by Yale psychologists that show imaginative play helps improve children's attention span, memory, vocabulary and creativity.

Another study published in the journal Science and Children found student's comprehension of academic material increased when lessons incorporated the manipulation of objects.

"It's an opportunity for them to get together and work with other kids," Vander Sluis noted. "And getting them into the library and exposing them to all the materials is obviously something we're happy to do."

She said the club is one of the highest attended library events.

"The kids are very readily taking the books home after the program," she added.

Two mothers of children who went to Monday night's club are impressed.

Jennifer Hasslen, mother of 9-year-old twins Olivia and Eli, said the family recently moved to Le Mars from Omaha, Neb.

She said it was Olivia and Eli's first time at Lego Club.

"My son is a big Lego fanatic," Jennifer said.

She was impressed that her children were learning things about math.

"He is a very science- and math-oriented kid, which is a little difficult around here being the kids are very sporty, and he always tells me that he's not a sporty kid," Jennifer said.

Heissel's mother, Danielle Heissel, said Beau looks forward to Lego Club.

"He's always saying, 'When is it?,' looking at the calendar," she said. "He's very good about reminding us."

Danielle said she thinks using Legos to explore a theme related to books is a great way to help children focus and better understand each meeting's topic.

Vander Sluis reserves part of the hour near the end of each Lego Club, so the children can construct "free creations."

In short, anything they want to build.

On Monday, the children's multiplication digressed into an epic battle between one Darth Vader Lego model and a battalion of plastic toy train conductors.

"We all end up battling on Earth when Darth Vader comes around," a boy shouted.

Vander Sluis asked the children to finish their games, steering the group back to that evening's theme.

"I'd like you all to come look at the math books," she told the group.

Vander Sluis concludes club meetings with a mini photo shoot.

She takes each child's photo and prints it out.

Vander Sluis places the photo alongside the children's creations, displaying both on the library's bookcases to identify each model with its Lego Club artist.

"They love that," she said. "They love to bring in their parents -- who maybe were out in the car -- and pull them in."

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