Program offers classes for kids to play and learn with Lego bricks
Samia Karim is waiting for her six-year-old son Omar Huq. Omar enthusiastically greets her as he stretches his arms straight out in front of his body, clapping his palms together in his best alligator impression.
He had just built a Lego alligator during free play at an after-school Junior Robotics session of Bricks 4 Kidz.
"Omar has been to every session since the program first came to Calgary," Karim said.
"I love building cool stuff," Omar proudly added.
Bricks 4 Kidz was brought to Calgary in January 2011 by directors Beth and Jim Thompson. The program was founded in St. Augustine, Fla., by architect Michelle Cote about three years ago.
"We do stuff with basic brick Lego, so kids are familiar and comfortable with this," Beth Thompson said.
"Whether they are learning structures or social studies, we come in and build with them."
The program thrives on the slogan, "We learn, We build, We play with...Lego Bricks," and the classes focus on building Lego, as well as life skills. Thompson said kids are encouraged to work on social and organizational skills with a fun factor and educational end.
"Aside from the fun, it's also about awareness and getting the kids hooked and passionate about possible future careers," she added.
Bricks 4 Kidz focuses on science, technology, engineering, math and social studies, said Thompson. There is also an emphasis on "engaging learners regardless of how they learn," she said.
"We hear a lot about kids who don't fit into the traditional learning environment."
The United States tends to offer more creativity and sports-based community centres for kids, highlighting a demand for creative learning, said Thompson. Bricks 4 Kidz tries to satisfy this demographic in Calgary.
In less than a year, the program offers classes at more than 20 locations throughout the city and surrounding communities.
Sherry Perdue, a mother of four, keeps her kids busy with the program. She says they've always been a big part of the Lego world and she's finally found a good outlet for them.
"They would build these amazing things on the Lego website and want to go to the store to buy them," says Perdue.
This can get expensive, so she said she's thankful for the classes offered by Bricks 4 Kidz, where her kids can build with their own hands for an average of $15 per class.
She thinks the Thompsons have found a perfect niche because, "kids, especially boys, are hands-on learners and there aren't many places to take them to do that."
This year, 2,000 kids in Calgary have built with Bricks 4 Kidz and Thompson said they hope that number doubles next year.
To meet growing demands, they have now purchased the rights for all of Calgary and the surrounding area, partnering with schools, community facilities, private organizations and other small businesses.
The Bricks 4 Kidz programs are consistent across the United States and Canada, and are designed to accommodate ages three and up. They offer a variety of programs, from preschool classes to more advanced and specialized technology-rich programs like Robotics and Stop Motion Movie Making.
All of the teachers have education credentials. Thompson said she prefers them to be certified because they are familiar with class management and overall educational values.
Jennifer Kanevski, one of 12 teachers with Bricks 4 Kidz Calgary, involves her two children in the Junior Robotics class. Here, children work with laptops to add remote controls to the things they've built, taking "conventional learning to the next level."
The classes start with free play and they have about one hour to build, Kanevski explained.
In one lesson, the class was assigned to build dragonflies in partners. Before they began building, Kanevski engaged the kids in a discussion about where dragonflies live, what they eat and all about their lifecycle.
Thompson said some kids find building the dragonfly to be a stepping stone. Some children are comfortable enough to take it to the next level by attaching it to a laptop to make it flap its wings or make noise.
"It can be a spring board; some will take it for what it is and for others it's a catalyst," she said.
Building with Lego also helps kids that have a hard time focusing.
"Classes are hands-on where they get to test and experiment things for themselves," said Kanevski.
"It's a different way for children to express their ideas and to understand how scientific concepts work together."
Kanevski also said she thinks children engage successfully in classes such as these because "they enjoy using their creativity to feel the success behind something that seems complicated at first.
"Kids really take pride in that."
- By ROXANA SECARA