The value of LEGO as a Visual Method for Understanding Experiences of Wellbeing in Schools

Wellbeing is a complex experience to measure, define, observe and communicate. My research used LEGO as a research method to explore Wellbeing Wednesday afternoons, an initiative to fulfil the Health and Wellbeing aim for the Draft Curriculum For Wales 2022 in a South Wales Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Secondary School.

Questionnaires and interviews tend to measure the psychological impact of wellbeing over time. Yet these methods are not always capable of ‘measuring the unmeasurable’ or capturing the complex experience of wellbeing. Additionally, teenagers are often loathed to communicate, making building researcher-participant relationships important as well as difficult to navigate. So how do you get teenagers to talk about their feelings?

LEGO Build to Express was created for this very purpose – usually used in classrooms as a tool for engaging students with abstract ideas and as an intervention for pupils who may require therapy. LEGO’s association as a toy to be played with often automatically encourages participants to fiddle, build and organically create. Within the recognised format of the school’s LEGO Therapy sessions, I presented the question ‘How do you feel on a normal day and a Wellbeing Wednesday’ to a group of willing participants.

The medium allowed pupils to communicate in metaphors, as the following images illustrate.

The builder explained that they normally hate school – “I’ll be honest, I skive a lot ‘cos I don’t want to be contained, like the fence, I don’t want to be trapped for 50 minute lessons,” they point to the LEGO figure surrounded by a fence. “The ladder then is me moving through a whole lesson on a Wednesday and sticking with it because I want to, because I can do what I want instead of being told to.”

“This is me in Tutor, which I hate, on the sofa calling my mum to come and get me. I hate being told what to do by my tutor.” The teacher is depicted with a witch’s hat and broom. The builder explains the other side of their model, full of colourful bricks and LEGO figures sat around a table together: “This is LEGO Therapy which I love because we can do arty things and have music on and have fun with Sir. This is all my friends sitting round building with me.”

“Thomas was being so annoying this morning and Sir said I had to sit there for the whole lesson with him being a pain in my ear.” In contrast to the restraint the builder felt in this morning lesson, as shown on the right-hand side, they explain that on the left-hand side, “This was me after I’d had some lunch and could go to my activity away from Thomas.”

The students’ LEGO models show a remarkable distinction between the static, frustrating and confining lessons throughout the week, and the importance of agency which is apparent in Wellbeing Wednesday activities. Here they show that their ability to have autonomy over their bodies and their activities is an important feature of Wednesdays. In these moments of shared freedom, students realise that their bodies are on the curriculum and are valued as much as learning outcomes and objectives. Given this chance to self-regulate, freely interact and use the classroom for their wellbeing, they learn that schools can be holistic spaces for wellbeing.

The creativity inherent in LEGO (translated as ‘Let’s Play’ in Danish) makes for an easy and efficient way to communicate creatively in research situations. Looking to visual methods and their ability to give autonomy to participants fitted the complex and diffuse experience of wellbeing in this school. While this may not be possible in all classroom environments, research designs or curriculum reviews, it shows that accessing students’ opinions and experiences can be a fun, creative and ultimately rewarding venture.

As both a tool and a toy, LEGO blurs the lines between research and experience, reinforcing the importance of remembering who is at the centre of research questions, curriculum changes and policies, and how their voices can be heard.

Alice Abrey


Dealing with Uncooperative and hostile Parents: Focusing on Children

09:30 – 12:30

The course will be looking at issues practitioners face in supporting children whose parents are uncooperative through Ambivalence, Avoidance, Confrontation or Violence. The issues will be explored and solutions sought so participants can go away with practical solutions to use in their practice. Issues of disguised compliance will be explored using examples from Serious Case Reviews and indicators explored for participants to take away for use in their work.

Child Neglect in Schools: Messages for interprofessional safeguarding practice

A Conversation on Wales’ Future

Wales faces a number of economic, political and societal challenges. From COVID-19, Brexit, the further devolution of powers, the growing conversation around independence, to sustainable development goals and the wellbeing of future generations, how Wales navigates these questions will be crucial for its future.

Join Carwyn Jones MS (former First Minister of Wales), Auriol Miller (Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs), and Rachel Minto (Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University) as they analyse the trajectories and priorities that will characterise Welsh politics and policy over the next decade, with an opportunity to add to the discussion with your own questions.

This event is jointly presented by WISERD (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data) and Wales Centre for Public Policy.

Safeguarding Children from Abuse Linked to Culture or Religion

09:30 – 12:30

This half day course will consider ‘honour’ based violence and other harmful traditional practices that affect children and young people, including female genital mutilation, forced/early marriage, ‘honour ‘ violence and abuse linked to the belief in witchcraft. The course will also touch on lesser known issues such as son preference, bride price, infanticide and traditional health practices that may be seen as harmful within a Western context.

Keeping Our Children Safe

15/09/2020 – 17/09/2020
09:30 – 12:30

JOIN US ONLINE: We are offering a selection of courses online via the Zoom or MS Teams app.

All children have the right to live lives free from abuse and neglect but recent events highlight, yet again, how difficult it can be for so many adults to recognise, and act on concerns about the safety or welfare of a child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all organisations concerned with children should work towards what’s best for each child.

DECIPHer Zoom forum with The Children’s Society

DECIPHer Zoom forum with Richard Crellin and Tom Davies, The Children’s Society

Latest findings from the Good Childhood Research Programme on children’s subjective well-being and exploring children’s well-being measurement across the UK

21 October 2020, 11am to 12pm

Notes on the forum:

In this session, The Children’s Society’s Richard Crellin, Policy Manager, and Tom Davies, Children and Families Policy Advisor for Wales, will discuss their research programme into children’s subjective well-being.

There will be a particular focus on measures of cognitive well-being (see, for example, Huebner, 1991) and the development of the Good Childhood Index (see The Children’s Society, 2010).

Then, using a range of research and practice case studies, they will explore how primary research into children’s subjective well-being has informed public policy debates and the organisation’s work with children and young people over the last decade and how well-being could continue to inform policy and practice in the coming decade.

To register for the Zoom forum, please email Nicola Trigg (

Please contact organiser Ed Janes with any queries (

Notes from The Children’s Society:

The Children’s Society supports vulnerable young people, from around 10 years old, who are living in complicated circumstances and often dealing with many different challenges. Through specialist services, we focus on improving well-being by listening closely to what young people tell us they need, and advocating with them to improve the situation. Our work covers a range of issues including going missing, exploitation, immigration issues, mental health, substance misuse and young carers.

Alongside our direct work to improve children’s lives we are also committed to changing the systems and structures that hinder young people getting the support they need and reaching their potential.
We do this through our research, policy work and public campaigning to improve children’s lives.

The children’s subjective well-being research is led by senior researcher Dr Louise Moore who is supported by researcher Dr Alex Turner. Charlotte Rainer is our policy officer, working closely with local and national decision makers to ensure our work has impact, with Tom Davies supporting us to do this in Wales. Richard Crellin leads the team.

Notes from DECIPHer:

DECIPHer brings together leading experts from a range of disciplines to tackle public health issues such as mental health and well-being, positive social relationships, diet and nutrition, physical activity and tobacco, alcohol and drugs, with a particular focus on developing and evaluating multi-level system approaches that will have an impact on the
health and well-being of children and young people.

DECIPHer is a member of SPARK | SBARC, Cardiff University’s Social Science Research Park.