Kate Cowan

UCL Institute of Education

Multimodal Perspectives on Play in LEGO House

Young children’s everyday lives are increasingly permeated by an array of digital technologies that are rapidly changing their experiences of play and the forms in which they make meaning. Children’s playworlds are therefore a complex interweaving of modes, with the border areas between the physical and digital becoming increasingly blurred. As a result, contemporary play often moves across boundaries of space and time in ways that were not possible in the pre-digital era (Marsh, Plowman, Yamada-Rice, Bishop, & Scott, 2016). Despite suggestions that new technologies might enhance children’s play in new ways, the complexity of play in such hybrid spaces has been largely under-examined (Marsh & Yamada-Rice, 2016).

LEGO House resists easy definition, combining elements of a museum, gallery, studio and playground, highlighting the close connections between activities such as playing, tinkering, designing, making and learning. Opened in Denmark in 2017 with the slogan ‘Home of the Brick’, LEGO House embodies the company’s learning-through-play ethos and is distinctive in its use of digital technologies such as cameras, sensors, scanners, projectors and programmable robots alongside traditional LEGO bricks. LEGO House therefore provides a rich context for exploring the liminal border-areas where physical and digital play are increasingly mixed.

A multimodal perspective offers a balanced, evaluative approach to researching such hybrid play by supporting detailed insights into the design and use of toys and spaces, both physical and digital. This presentation will share a multimodal perspective on LEGO House by analysing the design of its play experiences. Using the concept of ‘affordance’ (Kress, 2005), the examples will demonstrate ways in which LEGO House invites combination and movement between physical and digital forms, highlighting both the gains and losses that such transduction entails. The findings suggest that spaces playfully combining physical and digital dimensions can offer new opportunities for meaning-making, and add to a growing body of work recognising that deeply significant learning can happen in informal, playful contexts. 


Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2004.12.004

Marsh, J., Plowman, L., Yamada-Rice, D., Bishop, J., & Scott, F. (2016). Digital play: a new classification. Early Years, 36(3), 242–253. https://doi.org/10.1080/09575146.2016.1167675

Marsh, Jackie, & Yamada-Rice, D. (2016). Bringing Pudsey to life: Young children’s use of augmented reality apps. In N. Kucirkova & G. Falloon (Eds.), Apps, Technology and Young Learners. London: Routledge.



Kate Cowan is a Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education, London, interested in early childhood education, play, multimodality and digital technologies. Kate is currently researching children’s archives, spaces and technologies of play through the Playing the Archive project, and is researching teacher observation and documentation of play in classrooms through a project funded by The Froebel Trust. Kate’s doctoral research was part of MODE, which developed multimodal methodologies for researching digital data, including the ethics of video-based research with young children. Before joining UCL IOE, Kate worked as a nursery teacher and she remains committed to connecting research and practice.

More information: https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/browse/profile?upi=KJCOW81

Twitter: @katecowan