MADISON, NJ - Since the beginning of February, residents of Madison have had another reason to turn on their television and be proud of the community. For on February 5th, the first episode of the new TV show “Lego Masters” premiered with contestants being put to the test in constructing the best builds with Lego. And one of the contestants, alongside his brother Corey, was Madison’s own preschool teacher Travis Samuels.
“There’s not a wrong way to build Lego,” said Samuels, who uses Legos to teach his preschoolers architecture and engineering.
Samuels is an Irvington resident, who originally comes from Summit, and graduated from Morristown High School in 2008. While attending the County College of Morris, Samuels first began to work as a pre-school teacher at the YMCA in Morristown and Summit.
Three years ago, he began working for Bright Horizons at Giralda Farms, in Madison. Bright Horizon is a child development center with over 1,000 locations across the United States and the globe. Bright Horizons offer teaching to children six weeks to six-years-old and offers summer camp for kids up to age 10. At this center, Samuels has worked as assistant/enrichment teacher and overlooks STEM activities, garden works, art classes, cooking clubs, summer sports.
But the road for Samuels hasn’t been easy. When he was only six, Samuels was diagnosed with leukemia. Yet, even this tough time in his life paved the way to his connection with Lego.
“It was a hard time for me because I was always an active kid,” said Samuels.
“When I was diagnosed, I had to stay inside from my friends. Building Lego with my brother became my new playground. It definitely helped me at that time and has stayed with me and Corey. Lego was our avenue to continue playing. I’ve always had a loving family and great support system.”
Eventually, Samuels recovered and went to remission at the age of 12, and now makes Lego his method of teaching kids about engineering, math, cause and effect, and cooperative play.
“I want to show my kids and their parents how Lego can be incorporated into different STEM activities,” said Samuels. “Kids can do amazing things when you put bricks in their hands.”
And Travis showed just that while on “Lego Masters.” Corey Samuels was first qualified through the show’s casting. Lego had initially reached out to his brother. Corey then did a few Lego design to further qualify and when the approval came, he reached out to Travis.
“I was completely excited and just couldn’t pass down the opportunity,” said Samuels. “I’ve done Lego with the kids but not on a massive scale like this!”
“Lego Masters” featured 20 contestants working in pairs, and each week, they are put to challenge to design and build a Lego set in a limited time. Each challenge had a different with the first current episodes involving a theme park, outer space and constructing the missing half of a random object (The brothers had a piñata). All teams compete for the top prize of $100,000!
The TV show was filmed in Burbank, California, from late-October to mid-December. The host of “Lego Masters” was none other actor Will Arnett, who is known for voicing Batman in the “Lego Movie” series and the “Lego Batman Movie.” Amy Corbett, a senior design manager at Lego, and Jamie Berard, who oversees the Lego Creator Expert and Lego Architecture lines at Lego, served as the show’s judges. During one episode, Mayim Bialik served as a guest judge.
And Samuels couldn’t be more excited.
“During the show, all my emotions were flowing and out of wack,” said Samuels. “Everything was going at once. Meeting Will Arnett was soothing. He was funny, charismatic and supportive, and it was a really good treat to see that side of him. We even taught him our own handshake. Meeting the Amy and Jamie was a little intimidating, but we loved their positive reinforcement and the criticism was very effective. I thought the show would be more cutthroat, but they wanted us to build to our best ability.”
Since his entrance into the contest, Madison and the surrounding area have been tuning into “Lego Masters.” Samuels’s co-workers at Bright Horizon felt excited to say that one of their own was on “Lego Masters.”
“We’re very proud of Travis,” said Bright Horizon director Jane Windt. “The teachers, the kids and families have been so excited about it. We even had a Lego celebration with Lego-themed cupcakes and bracelets to kick it off. And each week, the families would touch base to see how he did.”
Bev Basham, regional manager of Madison’s Bright Horizon, was also happy to see the impact of how Lego can help a child’s development through Samuels’s involvement on the show.
“I think his understanding of children working in the center, teaching them creativity, engineering and motor skills, has brought him the opportunity to show how Lego can incorporate so much learning into children,” said Basham. And the kids themselves were excited to see their teacher on “Lego Masters.”
"It’s really cool to see Mr. Travis on TV,” said four-year-old Cooper Lee, from Madison. “It makes me want to do a lot of Legos.”
Cooper’s classmate Logan Lamb (4), from Lake Hopatcong, was also surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw Mr. Travis on TV,” said Logan. “I want to be a Lego Master!”
Unfortunately, after three episodes, Travis and his brother Corey were eliminated during the first episode where they had a challenge to construct the missing half of a pinata. The brother came up with a horsepower-theme for the pinata’s second half, but it didn’t save them from elimination.
“We tried to go big or go home, but unfortunately we went home,” said Samuels.
Though the brothers had a brief run on the show, the experience was exhilarating. Since returning home, they have attended Lego conferences and have a YouTube channel, “Brothers Who Brick.” More importantly, Travis Samuels continue to teach Lego to his preschoolers.
Aside from teaching, Samuels is the co-owner of Samz Brego, based in New Brunswick, with his brother Corey, which sells Lego-inspired fashion, like Lego brooches and lapel pins.
Furthermore, in the recent months, Bright Horizons has been trying to do a partnership with Lego to incorporate their building bricks into all their centers so kids can be further exposed to engineering and cooperative play. Samuels will be flying off with center representatives to attend a meeting with Lego to discuss this project. Samuels has also come to work for Lego’s Play-Well as a Lego engineer/instructor.
With all that has happened in the last few months, Travis Samuels couldn’t be happier and hopes the fun never stops for me, his family and his young students.
“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” said Samuels. “‘Lego Masters’ was an amazing experience. It reminds me a saying I say to my kids. ‘Try before you cry.’ It’s the same premise of the ‘not to give up’ attitude. Continue to learn and grow and to be creative as you want to be. ‘Lego Masters’ helped me to realize all that. And not too many people can say they had a handshake with the Lego Batman!”
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