Flexibricks: A catalyst for developmental growth and wellness for all ages
By Sjoekje F. Sasbone, LCSW
"Flexibricks are silicone, heat resistant, 'foot-friendly' bendable building bricks that are LEGO and DUPLO compatible. Want to give it a try?"
The best part at each convention is the looks on the faces of those who pass by our booth. They are the wide-eyed emoji most have on our phones. Kids in strollers will reach out with their hands and cast a slight pouty whimper in an attempt to draw the parents in as they wheel them away. Children of various ages stop at the table and build off of the spiraling display or completely rip it apart and create moveable creations that a future engineer can design. They build alone, with their siblings or share with other kids who stop by as well. Millennials through Baby Boomers say, "Where was this when I was a kid?!" Mainstream and Special Education teachers are interested in contributing to their classroom milieu. And folks who have autistic children or siblings tell us that Flexibricks are perfect for adaptive learning.
As a licensed clinical social worker, with a PPS Credential in School Psychology, I value the importance Flexibricks has towards enhancing several aspects of childhood development. The inventions some children make at our booth are beyond my creativity. They create "roller coasters" and pretend the figures are walking in loops. They wrap a section of our non-adhesive roll around their wrist to make a watch and use LEGOS to create the face that "tells time." Returning customers approach us, saying that their child unceasingly plays with our product. Their children have created paths on the door jam or directly onto the wall or fridge with our adhesive line.
I also witnessed the grounding and socialization aspect of Flexibricks. Teachers have purchased our products to display other building bricks on their desks, wrapped around their pencil cups, or adhere to the frames of their bulletin board borders. Special education teachers will use Flexibricks as a tool to assist with emotional disturbance (i.e., symptoms of anxiety) or offer safe toys for students diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Integrated Learning Strategies (2017), explain anxiety has become more prevalent amongst children whose limbic system (the portion of the brain that focuses on survival, emotional and immediate bonding needs) is unable to ground emotions that exceed typical stress. In addition to breathing and calming techniques, specific toys are also available to assist a child in grounding their feelings. For example, AT Parenting Survival (2019) mentions a self-soothing behavior to curb anxiety is chewing on items, one of which called "Chewelry." Cut pieces of the Flexibricks non-adhesive roll can be an acceptable option to wear inconspicuously, deterring any stigmatization for self-soothing chewing. Other alternatives, such as clothing, nails, pencils, are spared when incorporating silicone material as a supplemental source for grounding.
Relatedly, Bricks 4 Kidz (2018) explains, "pretend play," providing empathy, communication, cognitive flexibility, and problem-solving. We have one family who visits us at each convention, nearly every day we are there, so their daughter (known as Miss Ellie Honeybee) can ground herself at our booth. She is otherwise very quiet and experiences symptoms of anxiety. However, cosplay offers her the confidence and array of emotions that emit happiness and joy. It is a humble honor to see Miss Ellie Honeybee face light up as she nears our booth. She begins to build with a clean slate until finished with the task she created for herself. Pretend play such as this does offer social development through building with a purpose in concert with soothing anxiety.
We also have returning families who visit us at the conventions. They sometimes are in crisis or get a bit rowdy, but the parents instill boundaries, sharing, and kindness during this time, teaching them positive social skills. Newby Leisure Limited (2018), explains that construction play provides an opportunity for children to become team players. They ask each other to pass a piece to one another; they complete tasks together and demonstrate social cues when requesting and receiving building parts to strengthen social skills. In similar news, I see collaboration amongst children who do not know each other. Unless there is a child who demonstrates outgoing leadership abilities, I help facilitate interactions during moments of shyness. Sometimes they collaboratively build bendable bridges, racetracks, or loops, and I verbally praise them for their designs and partnership. Collective brick building play provides multiple roles for participants. The leader/surveyor is the engineer, and those finding and collect gather pieces are the suppliers. Evidenced conflict resolution skills and a final sense of accomplishment is achieved once a project is completed with a single step back in admiration (Bricks 4 Kidz, 2018).
Adults also demonstrate creativity and problem solving when interacting with Flexibricks. Fine motor skills, critical thinking, and visual-spatial/mathematical skills are also enhanced when engaged in pretend play (Newby Leisure Limited, 2018). Most adults who visit our booth begin by tentatively feeling the texture, carefully testing out its compatibility with LEGO pieces, then evolving in creatively conceptualizing application. A grandmother bought mats to adhere to a moveable surface to reclaim her dining room table while continuing a creative space for her grandchildren. A mother purchased adhesive mats to adhere to the outside of a lunch box for portable use on road trips. Reciprocal creativity is demonstrated in an intergenerational circular symbiosis. Self-expression is cross-cultural under the same language of playful construction (Koralek, 2015). We have witnessed the thought process of the invention in front of our very eyes. Adhesive Flexibricks are used to display their favorite pieces on top of or in front of their computer monitors. Customers are creating mobile display areas for their completed building sets. Additional intended ideas include trivets, placements for tools in a working space, and coasters.
Furthermore, Radcliffe (2019) explains that brain training exercises have been proven to decrease symptoms of depression and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). People with depression often have chemical imbalances of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Lower levels of dopamine are also associated with symptoms of ADHD. Also, studies have shown to reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease and dementia, as playing with building bricks can create pathways for new memories while decreasing limitations of the familiar. "People with Parkinson's disease have memory problems because they don't have enough dopamine to help them lay down new memories." -Dr. Cheryl Kennedy (2019) The goal for brain training is to transform inactive brain cells into active ones. Radcliffe (2019) states that routine habits do not stimulate new cell activity, thus not creating new memories/pathways versus operating on predictable loops. Flexibricks assist in carving out cognitive avenues to aid in an increase in dopamine and improved mental/physical health.
Ultimately, building bricks contribute to persistence, cerebral flexibility, and a sense of accomplishment for all ages (Christiansen, 2016). In a world of evolving technology, Flexibricks resets society to return back to the basics. Creating and solving puzzles, extending the parameters or regular building bricks, and exercising cognitive abilities contribute to soft skills such as leadership and emotional intelligence (Bricks 4 Kidz, 2018). Flexibricks is more than an eye-catching novelty. It is a "foot-friendly" skill-building tool that helps with developmental growth and wellness for all ages.
AT Parenting Survival. (2019). Child therapist's ultimate list of products to help reduce child anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/reduce-child-anxiety/#.XcTm2edKgWo
Bricks 4 Kidz (2018). 4 ways building toys can grow your child's mind. Retrieved from https://www.bricks4kidz.com/blog/4-ways-building-toys-can-grow-your-childs-mind/
Christiansen, K. (2016). 10 Important skills children learn from Legos. Retrieved from https://preschoolinspirations.com/10-important-skills-children-learn-legos/
Integrated Learning Strategies. (2017). Anxious child: Toys for anxious children, self-regulation and emotional grounding. Retrieved by https://ilslearningcorner.com/2017-02-anxious-child-toys-for-anxious-children-self-regulation-and-emotional-grounding/
Koralek, D. (2015). Ten things children learn from block play. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2015/ten-things-children-learn-block-play
Newby Leisure Limited. (2018). Construction play- Benefits for children and early years. Retrieved from https://newbyleisure.com/blog/2018-09-06-construction-play-benefits-for-children-early-years
Oostermeijer, M., Boonen, A., and Jolles, J. (2014). The relation between children's constructive play activities, spatial ability, and mathematical word problem-solving performance: a mediation analysis in sixth-grade students. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4102248/
Radcliffe, S. (2019). Why brain training may help you form stronger memories. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/researchers-come-up-with-simple-game-to-improve-memory