The USS Constitution Museum’s fourth-annual LEGO Maritime Festival began virtually for the first time Saturday, kicking off nine days of at-home creative and educational activities.
The festival encompasses activities for all ages, including a LEGO shipbuilding competition and a virtual tour of a LEGO model of the USS Constitution, according to the USS Constitution Museum website.
“I think LEGO bricks is something that all ages can enjoy playing with and being creative with,” said Jennifer Zanolli, manager of interpretation and visitor services at the museum. “It really is intergenerational, where I see participants everywhere from five years old to 56-year-olds get into it.”
The LEGO Maritime Festival started in 2018 and was originally inspired by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s “Brick by Brick” program, Zanolli said.
“It’s always been a big hit,” she said. “We get lots of visitors coming to us specifically for the LEGO Maritime Festival.”
Zanolli added the festival was often paired with the museum’s annual Model Ship Show, but the virtual format didn’t allow for that to occur this year — although those interested can view all of the museum’s ship modeling details online.
The museum temporarily closed to visitors in December to minimize the spread of COVID-19, although it has been offering virtual programming since March.
“I’m really proud of how the museum has been able to pivot so quickly to offering virtual experiences,” Zanolli said. “We made the decision early to close, and then the next week we were starting to brainstorm and think about the ways that we can offer virtual experiences and still reach and fulfill the mission of our museum.”
The transition to virtual operations may have actually widened the festival’s audience, Zanolli added.
“I know that we have people down in Texas that are participating in the program,” she said. “The biggest difference that we’re seeing this year is just the reach that we’re able to have.”
The LEGO Maritime Festival invites children to learn about an important piece of local history while encouraging them to be creative and engaged, said Amy Marks, professor and chairwoman of the psychology department at Suffolk University.
“LEGOs are one of those wonderful activities that brings people together from all different backgrounds,” Marks said, “and helps stimulate and promote basic early mathematical thinking and engineering skills.”
Marks added that online events such as this have been garnering more participation than in-person events before the pandemic, but the virtual setting can be difficult for children and families with limited access to technology.
“Anytime you can get people to come together in a community, it promotes well-being and connectedness, which we are absolutely needing now more than ever,” Marks said.
Zanolli said the festival was aided by the National Park Service LEGO Vignettes Facebook page, which posted a LEGO model of the USS Constitution Saturday. The post garnered more than 1,000 reactions by Tuesday.
“The only drawback for me personally, is probably not being able to see people smile in person,” Zanolli said. “But I love that we were able to offer this virtually because I know that those smiles are continuing at home, even if I can’t see them.”
The LEGO Maritime Festival is free to participate in, and as of Tuesday afternoon, multiple events are still available for registration on the museum’s website.
Marks added she hopes to see additional virtual educational opportunities crop up in Boston — community centers and libraries have faced challenges transitioning typically effective in-person programming to an online format.
“Right now, it has been so hard for young people and their parents to navigate this pandemic,” she said. “Having more available educational opportunities like the LEGO Maritime Festival available to our communities would be just phenomenal.”