For a new education program, the building blocks of success aren’t just metaphorical – they’re plastic Legos.
At the College of Education, Dr. Meredith Weber, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. Amanda Fisher, assistant professor of applied behavioral analysis, are using their knowledge of childhood behavior to create a program designed for children who struggle with social development.
The program, titled “Builders’ Club,” is intended for children ages 7 through 12 who have trouble interacting and communicating successfully with others. Weber and Fisher plan to combine two well-known, pre-existing childhood social development curriculums into a single, seamless program that aims to improve a child’s ability to make friends, work in a group, manage anger and communicate, as well as engage successfully with peers and adults in a number of different circumstances.
“Many of us take social skills for granted, but for those who struggle with them, they need the opportunity to learn and practice them with others,” Weber said.
Through physical activities like building with Legos and interacting among other groups of like-aged peers, children will build social skills while building with Legos. Builders’ Club requires both the participating child and the child’s parents to attend weekly interactive and informational group sessions held in Weiss Hall on Main Campus.
Depending on its popularity, the program may run on a continual basis to allow the children to maintain involvement consecutively for a number of months or longer.
Builders’ Club was conceived under the notion that more attention can be directed toward young students who find it difficult to socialize, make friends or communicate competently and effectively with their peers.
“Some districts include social skills groups or curriculum among their resources, but many don’t,” Weber said. “For those that do, there is not always an opportunity to practice in a way that is authentic.”
Public schools provide attention during the school day for students who find socializing and communicating difficult, but increased levels of active engagement outside the classroom promote further development.
Builders’ Club will focus on a specific communication or social skill each week, like sharing, teamwork, managing anger and taking and giving compliments. The group of children, led by both professional clinicians and graduate level students, will explore teaching methods, like modeling and repetition, so children can learn by example and application.
Weber said children with lesser social skills find it difficult to communicate and interact with other students, and this often makes other students more hesitant to socialize with them. Promoting improved social skills in children breaks “the cycle” of communication that disconnects between children of all different social levels, she said.
“Breaking the cycle is important, in my opinion, because it allows children to get more ‘real-life’ practice with the people around them,” Weber said. “More practice leads to better social skills, which can then open the door to friendships with peers and overall improved interactions with others.”
Temple graduate students can attain practical experience through hands-on interaction with the children in the program. Graduate level students will be selected to assist with the program. Weber has not yet selected student participants.
This program is the cross of two different teaching methods. The first of the two is titled Lego Therapy, designed by Dr. Daniel B. LeGoff. Lego Therapy stimulates and encourages social interaction and development through connections that occur between children and other individuals while playing with Legos.
The second curriculum, Skill Streaming, developed by Dr. Arnold P. Goldstein and Dr. Ellen McGinnis, implores four key teaching strategies to cultivate social progression: modeling, role-playing, performance feedback and generalization. The combination of these two approaches will work in tandem to increase levels of proficient communication.
Both Weber and Fisher have not seen cases where both teaching methods have been used together, making Builders’ Club an opportunity for both children and parents to benefit from specialized, social instruction.
“It’s fun!” Weber said. “And does not necessarily feel like ‘therapy’ so much as an after-school activity.”
Weber has worked previously with the Lego Therapy curriculum. She was involved with a similar group titled “Lego Club,” which aimed to improve many of the same social aspects as Builders’ Club.
Weber believes there are a lack of activities designed for children who find socializing and communicating difficult. Groups like Lego Club and Builders’ Club make such activities available for children.
The existence of Lego Club subsequently created a support group of parents who had children with similar social difficulties. This led to out-of-session play dates between children and encouraged parents to share resources that they found helpful in aiding their own child. The same is hoped to occur with the creation of Builders’ Club.
“Parents often benefit from meeting other parents who may be having similar experiences and form an informal support group,” Weber said.
The program requires the attendance of both children and parents at session meetings. Builders’ Club also aims to educate parents on social inhibitions so they can better aid their child’s development.
Builders’ Club is still receiving applications for prospective participants, and once leaders have received enough interest from the community, the program will commence. Any children in the area that struggle with social interaction are eligible to participate and the cost for the program is determined upon a sliding scale.
Finnian Saylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org