Academics
The LEGO Foundation

The Motion Light Lab (ML2) has been awarded a $1 million capacity-building grant by the LEGO Foundation to create systemic change in how deaf children and their families access sign language and visual communication. ML2 also was named one of 10 finalists in the LEGO Foundation’s “Build a World of Play Challenge,” a DKK 900 million (approximately USD117 million) challenge to help solve the biggest global challenges facing children from birth to age six.

This one-year LEGO Foundation grant will allow ML2, with its partner SKI-HI Institute, to scale resources and deliver an awareness campaign to help families develop healthy communication and play with their deaf and hard of hearing children. The grant project, “PLAYFVL: Play and Language Access for Your Family through Visual Learning,” includes several key initiatives to be strategically implemented to create lasting systemic change, including: 

  • a global awareness campaign; 
  • the formation of a global alliance with multiple organizations; 
  • the implementation of an early visual communication curriculum; 
  • deaf mentorship; 
  • resource development; and 
  • training globally.

ML2 and SKI-HI plan to work with multiple countries in geographically diverse locations to implement their programs, establish strong partnerships with local stakeholders and build infrastructure for long-term sustainability to reach an estimated 15,000 families. ML2 and SKI-HI will be working with additional partners to create and implement PLAYFVL for increased impact.

“We are very honored to have received this grant from the LEGO Foundation…it reaffirms our stance that access to language is a fundamental human right for every child,” said Melissa Malzkuhn, ’04 & G-’08,founder and director of the Motion Light Lab. “We know that 95 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, most of whom do not know or use sign language, and that language deprivation has a devastating lifelong impact on too many deaf children throughout the world. LEGO Foundation’s investment in our work will serve a critical role in propelling our vision for an inclusive, equitable world for all deaf children and their families.”

The Build a World of Play Challenge is being managed by Lever for Change, a non-profit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that connects donors with bold solutions to tackle the world’s biggest problems, including issues like racial inequity, gender inequality, lack of access to economic opportunity, and climate change.

“This challenge highlights the importance of investing in early childhood development to improve lifetime outcomes for communities around the world,” said Kristen J. Molyneaux, Vice President, Program Strategy and Learning, Lever for Change. “These finalist teams are focused on the building blocks of life to ensure the long-term well-being of young children, their families, and their communities.”

As a Build a World of Play finalist, ML2 is now eligible for a second grant of up to DKK 200 million. Later this year, selecting from amongst the 10 finalists, the LEGO Foundation will name up to five awardees. There will be three grants awarded for DKK 200 million each and two grants awarded for DKK 100 million each.

“At the very heart of this work to prioritize visual communication and sign language,” added Malzkuhn, “is our critical mission to ensure that all families can discover ways to play with their child, and find joy and connection through play.”

Together, ML2 and SKI-HI are combining knowledge, expertise, experience, resources and networks. Malzkuhn, a past Obama Fellow and a current Ashoka Fellow, will work closely with SKI-HI’s Paula Pittman. Pittman has been an early intervention provider for hearing families with deaf children for decades. She is the Director of Outreach for SKI-HI and Deaf Mentor Programs and the lead National Trainer for both programs.

The Motion Light Lab (ML2) is an award-winning creative laboratory focusing on creating an equitable world. ML2 is part of the National Science Foundation/Gallaudet University Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning. ML2 engages in a wide range of programs, projects, creative research and development, including the development and distribution of bilingual storybook apps, the provision of training to support literacy development for deaf children, and the creation of advanced 3D avatars with sign language fluency through motion capture technology. ML2’s efforts intersect creative literature and digital technology that integrate with science to create new knowledge, immersive learning experiences, and create social impact.

SKI-HI Institute is a nationally recognized unit of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education’s Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. SKI-HI’s mission is to enhance the lives of children who are deafblind, deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, their families, and their caregivers. The Institute develops direct service models which are replicated throughout the United States, conducts research, develops resource materials, and provides training. For more information, please visit the SKI-HI Institute website.

The LEGO Foundation shares the mission of the LEGO Group: to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. The Foundation, which owns 25 percent of the LEGO Group, is dedicated to building a future in which learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. It is through the ownership model that a portion of profits goes to funding research projects, activities and partnerships. In 2021 for example, the LEGO Foundation provided grants of DKK 2.8 billion (USD443.9 million) to initiatives that help children reach their full potential through play. The LEGO Foundation works in collaboration with thought leaders, influencers, educators and parents aiming to re-define play, re-imagine learning and equip, inspire and activate champions for play. For more information please visit learning through play.

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