Luke Harmon, 8, of East Setauket, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and his father said he didn’t know how to communicate. That is, until Luke learned to express himself by building Legos. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost; Photo credit: Dennis Harmon

Dennis Harmon was never a Lego kid. More of an athlete as a teen, Harmon grew up to coach varsity football at Kings Park Middle School and lacrosse at Port Jefferson Middle School. But as a father to Luke, an 8-year-old who has autism, Harmon says he needed a way to connect with his child who has difficulty communicating.

Lego turned out to be a solution.

Luke Harmon, 8, builds a Lego airplane with help from...

Luke Harmon, 8, builds a Lego airplane with help from his father, Dennis, at their home in East Setauket on April 10. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Ask Luke how his day was, and he might only say, “Good,” according to Harmon. But with a pile of Lego bricks at hand, “if he starts to build a football field, that’s how we find out he played football at recess.” Harmon says watching his son inspired him to launch his own business, Luke's Lego Camp, beginning this summer.

A Lego Taj Mahal and New York City skyline, both built by Luke Harmon, sit in his home in East Setauket on April 10. Credit: Steve Pfost

Harmon and his son are among the Long Islanders planning to attend Brick Convention, a Lego-oriented gathering coming to the Suffolk Credit Union Arena in Brentwood this fall. Before its arrival, Brick Fest Live comes to Long Island for the first time April 27-28 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. Both shows will feature fan-built displays, guest appearances by Lego Masters, massive “brick pits,” mosaic galleries, vendors and more. It’s a rare double whammy of Lego events that proves the enduring appeal of a toy that’s been enchanting children and adults for nearly 70 years.

Lego is really more than a toy, according to Linda Johnson, an avid builder who runs Chocology, a chocolate retailer in Stony Brook that occasionally hosts informal Lego events for kids. One creation she made with her husband and daughter: A 10,000-brick peace sign.

Linda Johnson, owner of Chocology in Stony Brook, and the...

Linda Johnson, owner of Chocology in Stony Brook, and the giant Lego peace sign her shop on April 11. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Assembling a kit or constructing something from scratch can help children deal with limitations and setbacks, Johnson explains. If a project falls apart, “It doesn’t really matter, because we’ll rebuild it,” she says. “It’s a lesson in life.”

Lego began with Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter who made wooden toys in the early 1930s. By the late 1950s, his Lego company (the name comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, or “play well”) had begun manufacturing early versions of the plastic interlocking bricks we know today. It was Christiansen’s son, Godtfred, who developed them into a full-fledged system. The accompanying minifigures began to appear in the mid-1970s.

Alexandra Gaita, 7, and her sister Darla, 9, of Port Jefferson add to the large Lego peace sign at Chocology in Stony Brook on April 11; Linda Johnson, owner of Chocology, hosts Lego building events at her shop. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Over the decades, The Lego Group has tied itself into just about every cultural phenomenon imaginable, from Volkswagen vans in the 1960s to “Harry Potter” sets in the 2000s. “The Lego Movie,” an animated hit from 2014, generated kits of its own with mini figure characters of Emmet (Chris Pratt) and Lucy (Elizabeth Banks). In October, Focus Features will release “Piece by Piece,” a Lego-animated biopic of the musician Pharrell Williams.

“The products they’re putting out are ingenious,” says Brian Wygand, 47, a math teacher who lives in Massapequa Park and helps run a local Lego user group known as I LUG NY. The group has been in existence for 15 years and counts roughly 40 members of varying ages. “They do a lot to develop the mature fan, the adult fan,” he says of the company.

(By the way: “The plural of Lego is Lego,” Wygand says.)

Steven Nielsen, a science teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, says most people don’t realize how advanced Lego kits can be. Nielsen runs a yearly Lego Robotics club in which students spend weeks building machines that attempt to perform certain tasks. One group of students, for instance, built a miniature airport carousel that was able to push specific Lego pieces down a chute. “They come with motors, sensors, light sensors, ultrasonic sensors that will emit ultrasound and measure distances,” Nielsen says. “You can even use Python,” he adds, referring to the high-level programming language.

For others, Lego is just a relaxing hobby. Al Tepe, a Trader Joe’s worker who lives in Floral Park, says he’s planning to attend Brick Fest Live and possibly pick up a few additions to his collection of roughly 40 Lego kits. His favorites, he says, are the Speed Champions race cars, relatively small sets  that may contain a few hundred pieces. Some Lego sets contain thousands of bricks.

“It’s a little more interesting than, say, a flat puzzle,” Tepe, 58, says. “It’s just something I do. My wife will be knitting and I’ll be building. And we’ll have a cocktail.”

Brick Fest Live

WHEN | WHERE April 27, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Tpke., Uniondale.

COST $33.12 — $46.15


Brick Convention

WHEN | WHERE Oct. 19-20 at Suffolk Credit Union Arena on Crooked Hill Rd., Brentwood. Sessions from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. each day.

COST $17.82



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