adventures in unschooling

Cassius’ Bionicle Education

Cassius’ Self Design Learning Consultant ask me to write down everything Cassius learnt in one week by playing with Bionicle. This is what I came up with. I’m sure I missed something!




Cassius read Bionicle stories this week in comics, chapter books, and on the Bionicle website. He told me the proper pronunciation of the names and places, since I was saying them all wrong. The Bionicle (no S to make it plural) have their own alphabet.

The stories of the Bionicle are very complicated, but somewhat vague. At first I was frustrated by this, until it occurred to me that the stories are purposefully vague. The stories make perfect sense to Cassius and his friends; they fill in the spaces and create their own stories based on the information they are given. It is fascinating to listen them make sense of the facts and create an imaginative world of their own together.

The Bionicle stories remind me of many of the myths Cassius enjoys. The characters have different strengths and weaknesses, mostly based on nature symbology (fire,air,water, earth etc.).

Cassius also helped me to write and edit this report.


The island of Mata Nui, where the Bionicle live, has a rich, complicated history. Respect for the past and hope for the future a strong part of the story line. The Bionicle are fighting a battle of good and evil for the mask of light. We have had several conversations this week about good &evil and white & black.


In order to be able to construct the Bionicle you have to be able to visualize how joints and body parts work together. Lots of the pieces have a socket at one end and a ball at the other, or two sockets, or two balls. It’s not as easy as it looks!


The construction of the Bionicle is very complicated. Cassius enjoys following the instructions to create the different characters. I have noticed that he and his friend will use the characters as they are meant to be used for a while and then take them apart and create new characters.

They value of money has become a lot more clear to Cassius since he started saving his money to buy Bionicle. The subject of money has come up so much this week that we have decided to open a bank account for Cassius. He is going to spend some and save some. This led to discussion about percentage and interest. Cassius was surprised to discover that bank accounts don’t come with money already in them.

Cassius’ ability to add has increased greatly recently also. He can quickly figure out how much money he has made on his job chart without any assistance. I don’t know what method he using to get his answers because he does it all in in head.

Cassius creates many new characters and has great logic for why his characters have the powers they do. He has created a mask of envy. This mask makes the wearer hate other people so much that they will attack them. The effect of the mask is short lived.


Cassius became frustrated because he didn’t have enough money to buy the Bionicle he wanted. I helped him problem solve ways to make the money he wanted and to see that if he worked at it step by step his goal wasn’t insurmountable. In fact he was only $5 dollars short. He cleaned up his lego upstairs and them helped me clean up the playroom and his problem was solved.

We also talked about how the marketing of the Bionicle is set up so there is always a bigger better one to get. Each year LEGO comes out with a new line and the old lines are no longer available. Cassius was distraught because the one that he wanted was no longer sold. In five minutes we found it on ebay for $9. The catch was that shipping was also $9. I asked him if it was worth it to him to pay twice as much for it? He thought it would be a good idea if I lent him the money and he could pay me back. I said it was possible, but he had to remember that working for something you already have is not as much fun as working for something you want. (student loans for example). I told him to think about it for a few days and he has since found a different one he would like.

The reason I am putting all this under living skills is that learning how to deal with what we “want” is one of the most important skills to have in our society. Our society values money, consumption & stuff and it is hard not to get caught up in it. We often think that what we want is what we need. We talked about why he “needed” this certain Bionicle more than the others and what it was he felt he would get from having it? The basis of his answers where story and relationship. He wanted to play with his friends with this particular character.


Cassius has had to set goal for himself in order to be able to buy the Bionicle he wants. He figures out how much work he has to do and weather it is worth it.


Bionicle involve a lot of creativity. Cassius creates the robots themselves & stories about them. He is planning a Bionicle birthday party which is going to involve mask making.


The Bionicle have powers based on different nature elements like water, air, fire, earth, light, darkness,shadow, gravity, and ice. The mask of water allows the wearer to breath under water. The Toa of Air wears the mask of levitation which allows him to levitate.


Enthusiasm and Wonder

Yes! Cassius’ interest in Bionicle is bringing him great joy. He carries his bucket of Bionicle with him everywhere, he even sleeps with it beside him.


When I asked Cassius what he had learned this week by playing with Bionicle, he said ” Nothing, except what Joe has told me”. Playing with his friends Joe and Lily have rekindled his interest in Bionicle. Joe is an expert and answers every question Cassius has on the history of the Bionicle. Joe also knows the powers of each character and mask.

Cassius has been teaching me about the story of the Bionicle. Cassius gets frustrated when I don’t understand. I reminded him of times he hasn’t understood things I’m trying to teach him. “I know nothing about this. I only have the information you’re telling me” I told him, “You’re teaching me so please be patient.” He understood exactly what I meant. He is a great teacher and answers all my questions in detail.


Playing with Bionicle is a social activity for Cassius. He plays with his friend Joe and Lily for hours. They share pieces and create stories and characters together. They all did the knight camp together for five hours a day last week. They enjoyed the camp but think they would have preferred to spend five hours a day playing Bionicle. They brought them with them in the car and played for several hours a day together after the class. They play beautifully together.

They only have one challenge in their relationship- Paris. They are very unimpressed with Paris trying to join in their game. Sometimes I will take Paris away because I know how frustrating he can be. Other times I insist they find a way to include him. He looks up to them and only wants to be doing what they are doing. Cassius’ friends have instigated the run away from the evil toddler game several times. Sometimes Cassius follows them and sometimes he sticks up for his brother.

I talk to them about how the more they try to push him away the more he tries to mess up there game. Paris can tell that Joe is very unimpressed with him so goes out of his way to bother him. This dynamic is a very difficult one for all concerned, but I see them all trying to make an attempt to include Paris and see his actions in a more compassionate light.

Paris is a challenge for Cassius even without his friends. In an attempt to solve the problem of Paris stealing all his Bionicle and taking them apart, (this is very frustrating when you’ve spent forever putting one together) Cassius bought Paris a Bionicle of his own, but Paris only wants to play with what Cassius is playing with. This makes sharing very difficult. “He only wants to play with what I’m playing with!” Cassius often moans in frustration.

Cassius can see that the older Paris gets the easier he gets to get along with. He can also see that the more compassionate he is to Paris the more compassionate Paris becomes. It is difficult for them both to negotiate their apposing needs, but I believe it will make them both stronger people in the end. It is wonderful to see how much they love and care about each other despite it all.

Cassius also talks about the Bionicle characters themselves with compassion. He told me how one of the characters would be sad forever if anything happened to his friend, and about how one Fire Toa who is scared of water but has to swim anyway.



Flexibility is a challenge for Cassius. He gets in his head what he wants and won’t stray from that vision. This has come up when he has decided he wants a certain Bionicle, but either he doesn’t have the money or it’s not in the store. You would think the world was ending by his reaction. It is very difficult to help him see that he can’t change something that can’t be changed, by making a big fuss about it. It’s good to express your feelings, but then you have the choice to either remain miserable or find a plan B. Plan B could end up being even more fun Plan A, you never know until you try.

This also came up this week when Cassius decided he wants to have a Bionicle Birthday party. Now Cassius has the coolest birthday Parties ever. We really come together as a family and create something. As we started planning this party together Cassius got very frustrated. All his parties suck he says because they are different then what he imagines. I know how he feels. Nothing is ever as cool in reality as it is in your imagination. We have talked about how we will do our best to fulfill his vision, but it will never be exactly the same. The more flexible he can allow his vision to be, the more he will be able to enjoy the end result.

I can really see Cassius trying to overcome his challenges in this area. I also point out to Cassius that a lack of flexibility can be a strength in certain situations. Knowing when to bend and when not to is a challenge for everyone.


We’re talking hours and hours of sustained attention here!

Systemic Thinking Skills

The Bionicle are all about patterns and groups. They are many different groups of Bionicle. How Cassius and his friends decipher the meanings of these symbols and language is a mystery to me.

Family Living and Society

Bionicle have led to many family conversations this week. Making money and saving money, sharing and getting along, media and advertising, computers, wants versus needs, and perfectionism have all come up. It very interesting to watch Cassius as he realizes how his dad feels to have to work all the time and spend his money on bills instead of toys. It’s wonderful to watch as Cassius changes his games to accommodate his brother. Bionicle bring up lots of frustrations for Cassius around how he wants things to be. This week I have watched him stuck in places of extreme frustration. It was an honor to help him look at things in a different way and help him solve his problems, and doing so move from a place of despair to success!

3 responses

  1. Well, I have taken quite a close look on your website and I must say that I find it extraordinarily interesting.

    April 15, 2008 at 10:06 am

  2. Wow, that makes me feel really good inside. Being a follower of the series since it started, I am amazed at Bionicle’s sucess and love it, myself. I hope to see more reports like this in time in other places, because they prove my point of Lego in general being a really good learning experience for children (and adults!) of any age. 🙂

    December 16, 2008 at 4:22 am

  3. Tahu Mistika

    I am 13, and i still love Bionicle 🙂 I think it is amazing what can be achieved, and also learnt, by playing with Bionicle.

    February 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm

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