KIDS NEED “L. E. G. O.” TOO!
As much as kids need creative play to stimulate their imagination, they also need LOVE, EMPATHY, GRATITUDE & OPTIMISM to stimulate their soul. WE CAN GIVE THEM BOTH!
Marc Prensky is the Founder of the Global Future Education Foundation
“LEGO®,” the world-famous brand name, derives from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. LEGO’s plastic construction toys have had remarkable success with kids — they are sold and marketed today in almost every country in the world. Over its three-quarters-of-a-century of existence, the LEGO® brand has expanded from generic bricks, to “minifigure” characters (many licensed from Disney and others), to complex kits with detailed instructions, to feature films, to theme parks and more. LEGO® is now the world’s largest toy company — the bright red LEGO® logo — the registered trademark of the Danish Lego Group — is recognized by kids almost everywhere. Many kids aspire to becoming a LEGO builder for the company’s parks and displays.
Count me among the toys’ big fans. I began playing with LEGO® back when they were still just generic interlocking pieces of plastic of different sizes, shapes and colors that I could use to build almost anything I imagined — which is what I always loved about them. I kept a big jar of LEGO® bricks on my living room table, challenging all my guests to create something original and earn a place on my trophy shelf of the most imaginative results. I also greatly admire LEGO’s “Mindstorms,” where the plastic bricks and parts are combined with computer blocks and sensors to build toys that move and do things. My son and I were both thrilled recently when the machine he built using Mindstorms, directed by its computer heart, mechanically twisted and flipped a Rubik’s cube to solve it.
LEGO® sparks kid’s imagination and creativity, and they love it. It has become a very big, worldwide corporate business, bringing in over 5 billion dollars per year in revenue and over a billion dollars a year in profits. A big risk for the often-very-profitable industries that market to kids, such as the toy industry ($90B worldwide sales) and the videogames industry ($150B) is exploiting kids’ vulnerability. The LEGO® Group, to its credit, has established the LEGO® Foundation, to use some of their large profits to help kids in positive ways. The Foundation focuses on learning through play. “We passionately work” says their website, “to convince parents, decision-makers and politicians to bring play into children’s lives in the homes, schools and communities.”
Given all they do, if anyone knows how to reach kids with a positive message, it’s the LEGO® Group and Foundation.
L. E. G. O. — Love, Empathy, Gratitude, Optimism
It recently occurred to me that there is, in English, another use of the four capital letters, L, E, G and O., separate from the construction toys, characters, films, theme parks and other products marketed under the registered brand name LEGO®. Those same letters — with periods between them — can also represent an acronym for the words Love, Empathy, Gratitude and Optimism.
Why those particular words? Because they have been shown — just like imaginative play — to be extremely important for kids to have, in as great a quantity as possible, if they are to live happy, productive lives. Love, empathy, gratitude and optimism — just like play — are freely available to humans. They are among the most important things any child can acquire and have — both while growing up and for the rest of their lives. These four emotions and attitudes, when possessed and used, are the source of much of human happiness. Gratitude, for example, is strongly and consistently associated in positive psychology research with greater happiness, and helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Love and empathy speak for themselves. All of these things are extremely important for kids to acquire while they are young, so they can carry them with them into their future and eventually pass them on.
Sadly Lacking in Kids
Yet as important as they are, love, empathy, gratitude and optimism are lacking — or underdeveloped — in a great many of the world’s kids. Foundations like Ashoka are trying to increase empathy in kids around the world. Too many kids are taught to hate rather than to love. When I ask kids if they are optimistic about the future, only about half answer yes. Academic education is certainly not designed encourage these things. Kids are rarely instructed in school on love, empathy, gratitude or optimism — except, perhaps, in the earliest grades. (I doubt if any of those four words can be explicitly found in very many of the world’s formal curricula.) Encouraging those feelings and attitudes in kids has historically been left to parents and/or religion. But only some of the kids — the luckiest ones — acquire them from those places. Those kids left without love, empathy, gratitude and optimism — no matter how much they may play — are likely to be lost and unhappy. Yet too many kids in the world never get the message that these things are important. One might argue that it is a big part of adults’ job to help kids find these things, so our kids can become better people.
A Modest Proposal
By virtue of their phenomenal success in reaching and appealing to kids all over the world, the LEGO® Group and LEGO® Foundation, are in a unique position to help change this situation. How hard would it be for them to combine imaginative play with the idea of kids’ showing love, empathy, gratitude and optimism? It seems a natural fit. One might argue, in fact, that love, empathy, gratitude and optimism are the very things kids should be imagining in their play, i.e. emotions that will better themselves, better others, and better their world.
So my modest proposal is that the LEGO® Group and LEGO® Foundation adopt the acronym L. E. G. O. (for Love, Empathy, Gratitude and Optimism) as their own — i.e. as an additional meaning for LEGO — gradually incorporating this second meaning into their marketing message to kids. LEGO®’s current message — at least as seen frequently by me on TV — is “Rebuild the World.” An even more meaningful message for all kids might be something like “Rebuild the world AND YOURSELF — both in a positive way” (in better marketing language, of course.) Kids need to continually build, re-build and strengthen their love, empathy, gratitude and optimism — the positive emotions and attitudes that bind people together and keep them moving forward. We want our kids to not only “play well” but to “live well.” Figuring out ways to help all kids acquire and practice more love, empathy, gratitude and optimism at the same time as they build their imaginations through creative play would give kids the complete package they need to succeed.
What if the LEGO® Foundation’s website proclaimed, “We passionately work to convince parents, decision-makers and politicians to bring love, empathy, gratitude and optimism — through play — into children’s lives in the homes, schools and communities.”? What could happen if the powerful creative force of LEGO® were combined with the even more powerful and life-enhancing forces of L. E. G. O.?
Think about it.
Marc Prensky, coiner of the term “Digital Native,” is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author & speaker. Marc has spoken in over 40 countries, authored seven books, and has been published in over a dozen languages. Through the Global Future Education Foundation (GLOBAL-FUTURE-EDUCATION.ORG) and Real-World-Impact Project Education Network (ARISE-NET.WORLD), and his writings and appearances, Marc strives to empower our planet’s two billion kids to improve their world via a new, more relevant third-millennium education and upbringing. . Earlier in his career Marc headed an early prototype charter school. spent six years at the Boston Consulting Group, and founded and ran a learning games company for over a decade. Marc is widely known as one of the most future-oriented, out-of-the-box thinkers in his field, Marc holds an MBA degree from Harvard (with distinction) and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Yale. He has taught at all levels, from elementary to college. Marc’s many writings, interviews and videos can be found at www.marcprensky.com. Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org.