This piece was originally published in School Library Journal on May 24, 2018.
I remember when I saw my first Lego wall. It was on a blog called Total Geekdom in 2012. This wasn’t just a flat Lego wall. This installation wrapped around the room and extended onto the ceiling. There were Lego minifigures scaling the walls and structures on the ceiling. For a moment, I was transported back to 1979 and my ten-year-old self was in heaven. It was about that time that I read Diana Rendina’s post on how to build an epic Lego wall. Within a few weeks, I had installed a Lego wall in our makerspace. The kids loved it and it remains the part of our makerspace that gets the most smiles.
We have a lot of Legos. I’m not exactly sure how many, but I would estimate close to 250,000. Lots of them were donations over the years. With that many Legos, keeping them organized has been a challenge. I wondered, how were others organizing theirs? I’ve seen a lot of beautiful storage solutions that might work with one or two kids, but not hundreds of builders every week. Thus, I set off on my quest to find the greatest Lego storage solution on the planet!
I started by asking my PLN on Twitter for examples of their favorite Lego organizational tools and tips. Interestingly, I didn’t get a lot of examples, but what I did get a lot of people saying, “I’ll be following this post carefully.” That told me I was on a worthy quest!
We use our Legos for a lot more than just building on our Lego wall. We have used them for stop-motion animation, mathematical investigations, mosaics, storytelling and of course lots and lots of free building.
My first organizational strategy was to sort by color and I stored them in clear plastic bins.
It worked fairly well, but clean up was tough. Kids struggled with sorting due to the small bins and their proximity to the wall. It was while I was on a school visit in Colorado that I stumbled upon the single best Lego storage solution in the world!
These beautiful sorters were being used in a makerspace to hold a variety of tools, but I knew that they would be perfect for Legos! I came home and immediately started searching for them. It was a lot harder than I thought. After many hours of searching, I found them online. They weren’t cheap, but I knew they work perfectly for our space.
The sorters are perfectly sized for kids to grab and go; but also for them to sort them when they are done. We took our organizational game up a notch when my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Calito, found each Lego color’s official Pantone designation. We taped these to the sorter sections. This is especially helpful for the kids when putting bricks back after a section was completely empty.
For other parts, like minifigures, wheels and other odds and ends, I keep them in their own special bins. Minifigures tend to walk away, so they are now enclosed in our display boxes.
If a student wants to play with a minifigure, they trade me a shoe. When its time to clean up, I find those kids and trade their shoe back for the minifigure. Silly, but it works! We have a ton of what we call people parts from some of our Lego kits. We store all of these extras in medicine bottles that are labeled appropriately. These costume parts come out a lot whenever we are doing stop motion or are using the Legos for storytelling.
For our special Lego sets like Lego WeDo and Lego WeDo 2.0, we’ve broken the kits apart (they never stay together anyway) and have opted for a nut and bolt sorter box. We hot glue one of what is inside each drawer to make gathering and clean up a bit easier.
We use trays and small tubs for the kids to grab when its time to build. NOBODY likes sorting Legos, but our kids have become quite good at it. We use the ‘smorgasboard’ model. Whatever you take you either have to build with or put back. So, we encourage them to start with a few handfuls and they can always go back for more.
It usually takes our Kindergartners a few gos before they realize it’s a lot more fun to build than sort. This year I added a tub full of green and blue base plates. Some kids like to build horizontally and then anchor their base plates on the wall once their creation is done.
Fun Fact: you can sterilize your Legos by tossing them in a mesh bag from the dollar store and running through your dishwasher or washing them on the gentle cycle. I purchased color coded mesh bags so that we didn’t have to completely re-sort our Legos after each wash.
I’ve collected tons of great ideas over on my Pinterest Board. Head on over there to check them out and please add yours as well!