Private Education - Lego opens new school on the block

Danish institution aims to nurture creativity through play

Many children around the world will have, at one time or another, built a school out of Lego. But very few get to actually attend a Lego school. This is not true for Lukas, 4, Malou, 4, and Helena, 8, who, along with their classmates, have become the first students to start their studies at the newly opened Lego-funded school in Denmark.

The International School of Billund (ISB), as it is formally known, opened last week after years of planning. "I was really, really, really excited," said Helena, whose parents are Danish but have lived in England and the US. "My favourite thing so far is building Lego. One of the classes is building a Lego alligator that can open and close its mouth."

The private school, which costs parents almost #163;300 a month in fees and is funded by the Lego Foundation, the charitable arm of the Lego Group, will follow the International Baccalaureate programme and incorporate the Danish curriculum, but will embody the Lego philosophy of good-quality play.

The ISB's students are aged 3-9, but it will expand up to age 16 in 2015. The school is situated near Legoland Billund and the Legoland Hotel.

Disappointingly, the school is not built from millions of tiny primary-coloured plastic bricks. Instead the ISB is housed in a one-storey school building. Inside the main hall, with its white walls and white floors, are two large circular sitting areas, one for reading and one with tubs full of Lego.

Camilla Uhre Fog, of the Lego Foundation, is acting chairman of the school board. Although smartly dressed for the official opening, she was not too far from her teacher roots to resist crouching down and demonstrating how children can make models on removable table tops and then put them away in specially designed storage units in the school's design room. The table tops mean that projects can be stored, not cleared away, ready for next time.

"We want pupils to use their hands," she said. "We're very hands-on. When hands are involved in learning, children really remember. If you're in the middle of the creative process there is nothing worse than clearing up - if you cease the flow then you lose the dream, you lose everything."

The opening ceremony was held in the playground, where children wore one-size-fits-all school T-shirts that came down to the knees of the smallest. The students sang an alphabet song, accompanied by acting headteacher Lene Korsgaard on guitar.

Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the billionaire owner of Lego and chairman of the Lego Foundation, greeted the 100-strong crowd assembled for the opening, explaining that the school is part of the foundation's contribution to the Capital of Children initiative - a joint venture with the municipality to make the town a centre of excellence for children's play, creativity and learning. It is hoped that the scheme will attract families and companies.

"Creativity is extremely important and valuable," Mr Kristiansen said, "both for the individual and for society as a whole. With the speed society is developing, there is greater demand for children to have complex skills, to enable greater innovation. Our goal is to create a school that nurtures children's creativity."

Work on the next Capital of Children project - the Lego House, a visitor centre that will include a history of Lego, a discovery area and a series of rooftop gardens - is due to start next year. And this one is being designed to look like a pile of giant Lego blocks.

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