Everything Is Awesome! Reflections from a Whirlwind Journey to the LEGO Idea Conference 2019

Apr 22 2019

Authors: Margaret Caspe

Everything Is Awesome! Reflections from a Whirlwind Journey to the LEGO Idea Conference 2019

GFRP’s Margaret Caspe shares her reflections on the 2019 LEGO Idea Conference in Billund, Denmark.

My daughters love to play with LEGO bricks, and, of course, I love to play with them, too. But I never knew that “LEGO” is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg” and “godt” that together mean “play well.” And play well I did. In early April I had the honor of traveling to Billund, Denmark, for the 2019 LEGO Idea conference. This year’s conference focused on a new strategy of the LEGO Foundation, namely, how to unlock the power of parenting to promote playful learning. Over 300 practitioners, researchers, and social entrepreneurs from around the world came together to learn and share ideas. 

Below are five powerful conversations that were ongoing throughout the conference. Stay tuned over the next few months, as GFRP brings you blogs from a number of those who presented from around the world as a way to expand on these emerging themes.

Play can bring children, families, schools, and communities together.

In GFRP’s challenge paper for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we wrote about five high-leverage areas that are fertile ground for families, schools, and communities to join together to maximize impact for children’s outcomes. We asked readers to come up with other high-leverage areas they see in their communities, and after some reflection on the themes of this conference, I’ve come to the conclusion that play might be one of them. Through play, children are able to reason and think more creatively y, and thus play is linked to an array of positive child outcomes like self-regulation, curiosity, and emotional well-being. Parents promote play through joyful, meaningful, and iterative everyday interactions with their children. Yet too often schools devalue play and are overly structured and adult-centric. Families, schools, and communities can partner and collaborate to advocate for more playful learning environments throughout their communities, and part of doing this, as John Goodwin, the LEGO Foundation’s CEO, explained, means “engaging parents as change partners and enabling parents as change makers.” 


Photo Credit: Margaret Caspe

Play looks different across cultures and communities.

There are many ways to play, and it looks different across cultures and communities, based on local values and available resources. Accordingly, programs and services designed to increase play must put parents’ agency, voice, and ideas at the center. For example, Rashmita Banerji from Pratham Education Foundation in India explained to the audience how using the familiar—such as designing a school-readiness event for children and families based on local cultural events like a wedding, an election, and a village fair—can help make parents feel welcome and open to participation in new playful learning approaches. And in interventions like Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) or Video-Feedback Intervention to Promote Positive Parenting and Sensitive Discipline (VIPP-SD), videos of parents themselves playing and interacting with their children serve as the basis and focus of discussion to expand and grow new parenting strategies. Even children and families in the most traumatic of circumstances should be afforded the opportunity to have moments to play and be joyful. As an example, Sesame Workshop, along with multiple partners, will be reaching children affected by crises in Bangladesh and the Syrian response region with early childhood and play-based learning opportunities.


Photo Credit: Margaret Caspe

Play happens everywhere.

Children and families play anywhere, anytime—at home, in the park, at the grocery store, even at a doctor’s office. It’s not only important to enable play in all of these spaces, but also to find ways to create linkages across them. One project—Learning Landscapes—seeks to do this by creating block parties, transforming bus stops into hubs for playful learning while families wait for public transportation, and building life-size games throughout communities that foster STEM and reasoning skills in public spaces. Playeum, a community creativity center, reaches underserved children and families in Singapore by placing creative materials and workshops in hard-to-reach geographical areas. 

We need to build the capacity of educators and families.

Families need information and opportunities to build their knowledge, skills, and confidence about play. At the same time, play facilitators in community and educational settings need ideas and support to organize environments for play and to empower families within them. A first step for facilitators is to take families’ perspectives, see their strengths, understand their situations, and appreciate their values and desires. To make this process explicit, on the first day of the conference the LEGO team organized a 90-minute session at which groups of participants discussed and analyzed case studies of individual families, including a Syrian refugee family; a family from Dallas Texas; and a family living in Ireland. By reading the voices of family members and considering the local and political contexts in which they live, participants were challenged to design supports and solutions so that the older generations could have more opportunities for playful learning with their children.

Technology is a powerful tool to expand playful family learning.

An important theme running throughout the conference was that of scale. How might we as a society expand, replicate, adapt, and transform ideas, programs, and services to new areas and populations so that all have access? Technology has overwhelmingly emerged as a tool to achieve this. Among the software offerings at the conference was the platform Kinedu, from Mexico, an app that provides enjoyable and age-appropriate daily activities for families to do with their children based on developmental touch points and milestones. And Ubongo, Africa’s leading entertainment company, is developing videos and other television and tablet shows for families and children to watch together to support learning and development.


Photo Credit: Margaret Caspe