Yesterday I spent the day at Generations Crossing one of my favorite places, where they provide daycare for children and adults together. I was there thanks to my great friend and Generations Crossing’s Activities and Outreach Coordinator Glennette Poland, who I met five years ago at an Alzheimer’s Association conference where I was speaking. As soon as the conference was over, she sent me a Facebook friend request and we became fast friends, sisters even. I’ve chatted a lot with Glennette over the years about how I use LEGO bricks in teaching, training and teambuilding sessions and as one of my stress-reducing tools.
This past January, Glennette invited me down to Harrisonburg, VA to provide an in-service training session for the teachers and other staff and of course our time included a session of LEGO Serious Play. For my new friends, LEGO Serious Play is a methodology using LEGO bricks that helps organizations, teams and individuals communicate more effectively. It’s a powerful tool and is great for teambuilding and learning more about the folks you live or work with. The session I did at Generations Crossing was such a great success that Glennette asked me to come back this summer to do a day-long LEGO event for four different groups. The groups are the pre-k kids who are 4-5 years old, the school aged kids who are 6-9 years old, and the adults who are ages 18 and up with a variety of health issues that require them to have assistance during the day. The fourth group I’d be working with was an Intergenerational session with the kids and adults working together. So the first thing I wanted to do for the day was to select a theme that I believed everyone would like. That theme was a “village”… the village was to include beautiful gardens with trees, flowers and plants and houses and other structures to make the village complete. Glennette loved the theme when I shared it with her a couple of months prior to the event.
During the prep for this event I learned so much about myself. I have thousands of LEGO bricks stored in 4 huge bins, 2 small containers for smaller pieces, and 1 huge container with “plates” used to build the LEGO models on. Since I’d be working with very young kids, and adults with a variety of health issues the first thing I wanted to do was to sort the bricks and remove ALL of the small pieces from the bricks that would be used by the young kids and adults in attempt to prevent any choking hazards. It took me more than 14 HOURS over several days to complete that task. As I sorted the bricks, I thought of all of the times Tim and I used the hours on our camping trips out in nature to build some amazing LEGO pieces. Tim’s creative imagination was almost identical to mine. I’ve had people offer me money for some of the stunning pieces he created right before his death, but none of them are for sale. Those memories of us didn’t make me sad at all, and as I held some of the little bricks in my hand I felt uplifted by the bright colors that fill each bin. Of course, I also thought a lot about my Mom during the sorting, primarily because those little bricks are the only connection I have with her. Whenever I get the LEGO bricks out for her, she immediately starts clicking them together, and that dreaded blank stare of dementia melts away and she focuses on making a house, “so she can go home”. I love all of the LEGO time I spend with Mom!! It reminds me of all of our old memories of building together when I was a kid. The sorting of the bricks brought me a lot of peace.
I drove the two hours to Harrisonburg, VA on Sunday morning so I’d be well rested for my day-long event with the four groups. Glennette took me to dinner and we had a marathon girls-bonding session! What a great treat! I didn’t get a lot of sleep Sunday night as I was reviewing my plans in my head for the day, and I prayed that everyone would love the plan for the event. I arrived with my huge assortment of LEGO bricks around 8am, in plenty of time for the first session at 9:30. I started with the school-aged kids and shared what we’d be building for their hour-long class. I gave them the choice of building items for the garden or structures for the village. Some of them immediately latched onto the garden theme and others created a variety of buildings. The teachers and I watched them build and provided assistance when needed (including settling an argument over a LEGO piece that two kids wanted) and were fascinated by how much time each took to decide what to build. The two greatest surprises were from the young girl who built a boat to drive people around the village via the lake AND the young girl who was building an outdoor grill and pool attached to her house which needed a refrigerator!! When she asked me how to make a refrigerator I told her to use her imagination and she did, and the results sure did look like a refrigerator!! The group was told that after they finished their pieces (some built multiple things for the village) they’d carry them out of their classroom to the table that had been set up with the LEGO plates and they’d each decide where to place their models. They all had to find just the right spot!!! As they finished their portion of the village they all said thank you to the “LEGO teacher” and I got many hugs.
There was then some minor sorting and the trip with the bins to the next classroom for the Intergenerational session with the kids and adults. I’ll be honest and say it was very emotional for me watching the team of kids and adults first plan what they were going to do (and actually LISTENING to each other) and then starting to build. They took turns placing the pieces carefully and smiling and laughing with each other. Though I’d worked with both kids and adults in the past, it was never at the same time. Watching them was a great reminder for me of the importance of accepting others just as they are. It was so cool to watch the kids help their adult teammates if they had trouble putting the bricks in the right places, and it nearly brought me to tears. So that we’d be able to immediately tell which models the Intergenerational group had built, I used a special set of bricks called LEGO Architecture which are all-white bricks. The kids and the teachers helped to place the awesome creations into the village. The open spaces were starting to fill in nicely and the village was coming together!!
There was then a two-hour break during which I had a great lunch with the staff and did another round of mad sorting to get ready for session with the 4 year olds (Glennette and a wonderful young lady who showed up for work early, helped me to sort). After their shortened 1 hour nap due to our session, I gave them their task of building trees or flowers for the garden. Because of their ages, I demonstrated for them how to make a simple flower and tree and they built to my verbal instructions using they pieces we gave them. Once they had the basic process down, they started making their own creations. I’ve never seen such beautiful flowers and trees! One young boy immediately began making a bee hive to help the plants and flowers… Just WOW!!! I think this group had the most fun!! They kept saying to the teachers “I hope the LEGO teacher likes what I built”. They all proudly held up their creations and were thrilled that they would get to place them into the village. They did a very orderly march to the table (we carried some of their creations to ensure they made it safely all the way to the table). Watching them carefully place their creations was mind-blowing! The village was almost full now, but there was still one more group to go!
The adults then had another opportunity to build, this time alone and with the brightly colored bricks! They tackled their task head on. One gentleman had assistance from his wife, who clearly was having as much fun as her husband!! They built structures as the final part of the village. The smiles on their faces just melted my heart! The surprise of this group was the woman who picked only the red, white and blue bricks, so I started giving her just those colors. Just like my Mom, she said “thank you” every time I gave her more bricks. The other surprise was from the gentleman who didn’t want to participate in the Intergenerational exercise, but got right up and came to the table when I came back to work just with the adults. His structure was the biggest and the best and even included a LEGO flag. When the adults got to each go out to the village and place what they had built we took pictures of their reactions. There were broad smiles and awe and wonder at the huge village in front of them!! They pushed their walkers and wheelchairs around the entire table so they could see everything. It just warmed me all over!!!
But the best part of the day was when the family members of the kids and adults came to get them and each child and adult got to show off what they had made!! The children of the adults just beamed!!! “You made that??” they asked the parents or spouses” “YES” came the proud answer from their loved one. I haven’t had a moment that proud in a long time!!! LEGO bricks are so much more than a toy, on this day they were both a bonding and learning tool and brought together young and old alike both to create a village and to admire what was created. It took an hour for Glennette and I to break down the village when it was time to go home. That part was so sad!! While my plan had worked to perfection and had exceeded my every expectation, the greatest lesson I took from the day was the fact that I got out of my comfort zone and taught a several hour LEGO session, which I hadn’t done since Tim’s death (it’s what I was doing in NY when he had a stroke in front of me and then died 6 days later). I also learned that I should definitely do this again as it was energizing for me! I learned so much watching the kids learn AND also what it means to be part of a team. The teachers and staff at Generations Crossing are second to none. Their leadership is outstanding and everyone seems happy to be there!! But how could you NOT be happy working in a place where the mission is to provide love and care to kids and adults? It really does take a village to do great things when caring for others. I’m thankful that Generations Crossing has allowed me to become part of their village!!