As we all continue to adjust to an ever-evolving new normal, surviving a back to school season in the time of a pandemic, remains challenging.
From experiencing unexpected school quarantines (e.g. a student in your kid’s class tests positive for COVID-19) to being waitlisted for after school extended care and all the driving around for drop-offs and pickups, here’s how three moms at ActivityHero are managing the chaos.
1. Hacking (Unexpected) School Closures
Meet Kathrine: Mom to a Kindergartener (Los Angeles)
We were so excited to go in-person to the ‘big’ school this year. Just a few days in, school communicated that a child in my Kindergartener’s class tested positive for COVID-19, so the classroom was going to shut down for 10 days. My daughter was sent home with a computer for virtual instruction along with packets of information and materials for next two week’s instruction.
Solution: Register for last-minute online camps with classmates to squeeze in some virtual play dates.
Distance learning was scheduled for 9-11 am daily. With half the day still remaining, we found online classes to help with the afternoon so she wasn’t parked in front of the TV for all of that time. She really enjoys Minecraft and Roblox so finding social clubs or easy 45~min classes to support her favorite interests was easy. To help support some physical activity, we did also add an online Ballet class.
2. Mind the After School Gap
Meet Tabetha: Mom to a 3rd Grader (San Francisco)
After months of distance and hybrid learning, having school for a 6 hour block of time has been an amazing improvement. We were hopeful at first, then officially waitlisted for after school extended care to get us through to 6pm. As a household with two full-time working parents the 3pm pickup is challenging.With the luxury of school facilitated enrichment programs like Chess and Basketball (and this coveted time for when homework could be done with an on-site tutor) missing this year, panic-mode started to settle in. And then we chatted with some of my son’s friends and realized we could do online classes.
Solution: Find online extracurriculars for your kids so you can attend a meeting and make dinner. It’s a win, win situation for everyone.
Fun classes where learning looks like play is our usual approach for extracurricular activities so our son’s hobbies helped with the selection process. LEGO and Pokemon are his current favorites. Even better, the themed classes we found are actually great for problem solving, building and creativity. Dancing to burn off energy is also a must. Different than last year, only having a small window of online classes has been much more manageable.
3. Less Driving = More Learning
Meet Kristen: Mom to a 7th Grader & 11th Grader (Sacramento)
We couldn’t wait for in-person school to start this year. For my 7th grader, this meant going to a new school. With two kids at two different schools and two different sets of activities, we didn’t realize all the added back and forth driving until it was happening. Beyond the everyday drive to and from school, I now have to make a 3rd and 4th trip, 4 days a week for sports. This is in addition to the same daily drop off to and from school at a separate campus and several evening practices for club sports at least an hour each way. Today, we spent over 4 hours in the car driving back and forth and didn’t get home until after 9pm. The boys had to do their homework in the car and I won’t even mention what they had for dinner.
Solution: Fuel kids’ brains with fun online classes to minimize time spent in the car.
We never thought we’d say this, but we were missing online classes and virtual sports. (We saved so much time and gas last year!) To help offset the in-person activities, we decided to go back and add online classes into our weekend schedule. Online Drawing and Art classes have become our time together to connect as a family. The kids are also now signed up for virtual Martial Arts and Coding classes. All of which can happen in the comfort of our home.
Find your back to school solution! Create an account and profile for your kid to find even more personalized classes and camps atActivityHero.
Whether it’s gymnastics, soccer, or skateboarding, there’s something for everyone when it comes to the summer Olympics. Dive into a world of international sports, from table tennis to basketball. Feeling inspired by your favorite athletes competing on the world stage? Here are some beginner sports camps and classes for kids who are captivated by Olympic sports this year.
Soccer skills and fun games that kids can do from the safety of their own backyard, garage or patio. Your child will practice their individual gross motor skills, focus and agility to keep them sharp and ready for when the season begins!
With fun challenges they can practice at home, your child will gain new skills and develop their passion for new challenges.
Hajime Judo (Beginning Judo) teaches judo technique, culture, and character. As kids learn basic judo techniques, they work on developing balance, coordination and confidence. Every class finishes with games that develop motor skills and ends with laughter and fun. This is an amazing place to get your kids active and introduce them to martial arts.
What is your favorite sport? Make it come to life during this week-long camp!
Explore and enhance your LEGO building skills making stadiums, gyms, courts, obstacle courses and fields. Learn how to make a round ball, a football, goals, or any other item you might use in your sport.
Join Fun & Fit TumbleBus for virtual gymnastics style fitness videos! They’re just created a NEW workout video. Get 2 warm up song videos, 1 gymnastics style workout, and free bonus videos!
Virtual TumbleBus videos are intended to promote a love of fitness in preschool and young elementary school age children. Videos work on children’s motor skills, listening & following directions, basic gymnastics, and balance, coordination & strength needed for all sports!
Access these on-demand videos with all sorts of soccer exercises and games! Go around the world with Mr. Matt, play soccer games with Smelli Elli, or go international with soccer in Spain or France. These videos can be viewed on your own time and are perfect for kids to try out soccer in the comfort of their own backyard.
Follow in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka with a tennis summer camp! Introduce your child to something new this year with an exciting day camp experience. Euro School of Tennis will help make your child’s summer action packed on the tennis court. This is a chance to learn about tennis from personalized instructors who can help your child attain new skills in a fun, safe environment. Full day sessions include swimming and games in the afternoon. Half day morning or afternoon is also available.
No Tennis Experience? No Worries. Beginner Kids Tennis Lessons are Here!
The perfect time to help your child learn more about tennis is right now with our beginning kids tennis lessons. Dubbed the Mini Aces program, this class is designed for kids 6 – 8. This intergrade tennis program is the ideal option for first through third grade kids who haven’t had any real exposure to the game. Every clinic is a great way to keep your child active while helping them understand the basics. From learning more about game play to serve and return skills, we’ll help your child learn what to do in a match while having a great time.
What a summer for soccer! Learn new and exciting soccer skills with Coach Ken. Coach Ken’s Soccer Camps have a proven record of helping kids achieve their full potential as soccer players. The coaches are knowledgeable and passionate about the game. All lessons are age-appropriate, challenging, and fun. All levels are welcome.
Try out the newly-reinstated Olympic sport: golf! All SPeeD Academy classes are taught by golf professional Roy Day, PGA. Roy has been named US Kids Top 50 Junior Instructors (2006-2008) and US Kids Master Junior Instructors (2009 to present). In addition to being extremely knowledgeable about golf, Roy makes learning FUN!!
This year, fencing consists of three separate events at the Olympics. Join in the fencing fun with this introduction fencing class. Learn to fence and have fun with peers in a safe way at Maximum Fencing Club. All equipment is provided.
Take after US flag bearer Sue Bird with basketball! At this camp, campers work hard and feel good about themselves in a safe, disciplined, highly structured and motivating environment. Players will learn to work together in a team setting while playing games and tournaments.
Camps are divided up by age and experience, keeping groups separated for the best overall camp experience. The equipment and curriculum for each age group is very different and age appropriate.
Join Little Twisters this summer for days full of Gymnastics, Games, Free Play, Dance, Snack Times, and an End of the Week Performance. The facility is the cleanest and kid friendly facility in Santa Clara County and our instructors are top-notch. Sign up for this camp for a week of fun and gymnastics that your children will love.
Beginners with no previous table tennis experience will engage in learning exercises designed to energize, entertain and build a strong table tennis foundation. Intermediate and advanced players, (competitive table tennis athletes who aim to take their game to the next level), will engage in rigorous training sessions that focus on technique, game strategies, skill reinforcement and physical conditioning. Players of all skills can join to try out ping pong and have fun practicing together.
New to the Olympics, skateboarding has swept the world as a fun and high-energy event. Try out skateboarding with Golden Gate Skateboarding. Start camp with an introduction to skateboarding specific stretching/yoga routines that improve performance and reduce injury probabilities. Cover beginner level skills all the way up to more advanced skills like Ollies, kickflips, 50-50 grinds, frontside 180’s and many more tricks. All skill levels are welcome!
Learn the fundamentals of shooting, passing, and dribbling. Understand the strategy of playing basketball. Have fun in one of KidzToPros’ most popular sports camps! Whether the camper is a first-timer or experienced player, they’ll learn skills that will carry them on to the next level. They’ll end each day engaged, passionate, and motivated for the next day of basketball camp!
This girls-only leadership and soccer summer camp is an opportunity for girls of all playing levels to refine and develop new soccer skills. Along the way, make friends and gain exposure to new experiences including dance, artistic expression, and leadership training.
When school is out, soccer is in! Super Soccer Stars and Soccer Stars United are kicking into this season with summer, holiday, and day-off soccer camps. Coaches work with 4-8 children to build skills and create a team atmosphere. Have fun with the FUNdamentals of soccer! Kids across the country can have a blast in a safe, high-energy soccer camp that will keep them active and allow them to socialize with friends.
The Devil’s Gate Wrestling Club is a youth wrestling club chartered by USA Wrestling in 2014 with the goal of introducing the local community to the sport of wrestling. Their coaching philosophy seeks to teach wrestlers how to motivate and challenge themselves. The Devil’s Gate Wrestling Club strives to implement and teach our youth wrestlers core values like hard work, dedication, goal-setting, and discipline.
Tiny Tees Golf Summer Camp is open to players of all skill levels from beginner to advanced, ages 3-13. Children will work on individual golf skills: full swing, putting, pitching, chipping, bunker play, golf course etiquette, and course play. Introduce your kids to golf through this fun camp designed for young beginners!
These classes teach Shorin-Ryu Karate, a traditional Okinawan martial art, and the complete system of self-defense. Beginning classes will teach basic blocks, strikes, and kicks, and the first form. Advance through these martial arts lessons with Wilmington Karate Club this summer.
Go for the gold in a triumphant Olympic journey. This camp combines art, science and outdoor challenges that build creative confidence, nurture social development and deliver the big summer fun they crave—all in small groups that put safety first. 75% of time is spent outdoors!
Get fired up to create mixed-media torches or glittering medals to light up the games. Master the mechanics of athletes and their equipment by designing high-flying archery bows, judo robots or a go-kart you can race in (a Galileo Olympic event only). Celebrate the Olympic spirit with a range of outdoor games!
This camp is focused on surfing, swimming, and playing at the beach. All surfboards and bodyboards are provided at camp. Experienced instructors will lead kids in swimming, basic surf techniques, and surfing etiquette. Learn about ocean safety and conservation while having safe play time in and out of the water! This is a great opportunity to spend time getting more familiar with our beautiful coast, and the power and fun of the ocean.
Summer camp is almost over and your kids had a blast! As proof of said fun, all the exciting activities have accumulated to become a large pile in your living room. Now what? Here are some creative ideas to manage the chaos.
1. Double down. When kids develop an interest in a certain type of medium, like clay, double down. Exhaust every facet of clay while you explore new techniques and test new projects.
Quick Tip: Once your kids tire of the medium, use the opportunity to have conversations about organization and material attachment. Together, you can discuss why they may want to keep something or whether they can find new use for their old items.
2. Innovate. Continue learning! Kids can practice problem solving long after camp with a project that’s returned home. Using everyday household tools and materials available, your kids will think of new ways to improve a project by making it look and work better.
“My kid designed a backpack at an innovation camp this summer. He added small details after realizing the water bottle holder wasn’t strong enough. He also included a waterproof side pocket as a new feature.”
3. Repurpose. Channel your inner Marie Kondo. If it sparks joy, keep it to create a whole new personalized project. Finding new purposes for old items is a great way to give new life to items while preserving memories.
“I have a canvas in our living room that I decoupage paintings my kids did when they were toddlers. I also save artwork throughout the year to decoupage onto keepsake boxes and memory frames for our extended family.”
5. Document the whole memory. Get pictures with your kids holding their designs. It documents the special creations and their ages of completion. It also offers the perspective of scale to show how large and small the items were.
This bridge lasted a while on his shelf but was eventually tossed to make room for LEGO builds. Looking back we’re so grateful to still have pictures of my son holding the special projects.
6. Practice postcards. Creating postcards or packages can be a fun project itself! Practice writing letters with old paper projects. Gather, cut and fold old projects to create a package for far away loved ones.
Quick Tip: Use this as a teaching opportunity about the postal service and how it works!
7. Host an art gallery. Celebrate a summer’s worth of artwork! Let kids choose their favorite pieces to display around the house for an art walk. Whether it’s with just the family or with more friends, a gallery day is the perfect way to give your art collection a send off.
Quick Tip: You can even make snacks and decorations to complete the “museum day” and spend time reviewing each piece of artwork.
On-demand STEM classes and activities for your child are a great option when you need an activity at any time of day. ActivityHero provides a wide variety of classes and activities in science, technology, coding, engineering, math, and more! Here are some of our favorite on-demand STEM activities.
From WALL-E, Baymax, to Transformers, robots have been some of our favorite movie characters. In this Open Class, Professor Atkeson from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University will walk us through the basics of robotics and then explore soft robots, which have soft cushiony bodies.
Do you know your kids can help scientists solve puzzles and design vaccines by playing games? Genetics, together with computer science, are two of the most promising fields for the future. Join this talk to learn the basics of genetics and explore the fun game designed by Stanford experts!
Have fun baking a dessert with your kids and learn some science at the same time with this DIY Solar Oven by Beau Coffron, in partnership with Home Depot. All you need is an old pizza box and a handful of tools and materials. In just a few easy steps, you’ll have created an innovative solar oven!
This On-Demand segment is part of our Playgineering and Fungineering series that uses the Engineer’s Process to create scenes with Technic and regular Legos and other materials through design, construction, robotics and play.
In this segment, in addition to highlighting key features that define turrets of castles, we provide step-by-step instructions for building turrets using 2×4 and 2×2 Lego bricks that are able to interlock-style attach to the walls of the castle that we build in different On-Demand segments in our series.
This on-demand activity includes a telescope kit and video instruction, where an expert astronomer and telescope builder will walk you through the process of assembling the telescope. Then, begin exploring the universe like Galileo did over 400 years ago and see the wonders of the winter sky!
These amazing STEM Kits include 3-5 STEM experiments and activities shipped right to your door. These include videos with pre-recorded STEM lessons to guide you through the activities. Each video lesson is taught by a California credentialed teacher that specializes in STEM Education.
Build a wind-powered car while learning about the scientific concepts behind the process! These printables will guide you through the steps of building a car, testing it out, and experimenting with it!
Computer programming isn’t just for college students and hackers. Here are four engaging ways to get your kids started with coding.
By Ashley Wang
It’s pretty clear by now that technology is a force to be reckoned with. Tech companies are ever-growing and demand for programmers has never been higher. Computers dominate our lives right now, and they will dominate the lives of our children, as well.
So it’s not unexpected that many parents are interested in coding for kids. But getting them started can be rather tricky, especially if you don’t have too much experience with programming, yourself. Here, we highlight four ways to introduce your child to code.
Used by millions of children around the world, Scratch is considered by educators to be the gold standard for teaching beginner coders the basics of programming. The reason? It uses blocks-based grammar that has users drag and drop commands rather than typing code. Because Scratch doesn’t require learning any complicated programming languages, even eight-year-old kids can use it.
Using the website, you can create everything from short animations to simple games. It’s intuitive, logical, and familiarizes kids with the computational thinking behind programming without overwhelming them with abstract ideas.
And if you want to get your child started even earlier, say at five-years-old, ScratchJr is the perfect learning tool. It doesn’t even require the ability to read; instead, children only need to connect together icon-based blocks to animate their characters.
Looking for a more hands-on experience for your child? Lego robotics might just be the perfect fit. Lego Mindstorms, a hardware-software platform produced by Lego for children aged 10 and up, combines the fun of Lego-building with the intellectual challenge of programming robots to walk, talk, and even think.
Calvin Grewal, a Palo Alto High School senior who interned at a startup as a web developer over the summer, thinks it’s especially great for keeping kids motivated because of the immediate results it lets them see.
“It’s a good way to make coding not so dry,” Grewal says. “Building a physical robot is definitely a lot more interesting, especially for younger kids.”
Grewal does, however, warn against having children learn robotics and coding without the proper assistance that is provided at robotics camps and classes.
“If you’re in high school then you may be able to study code on your own and be properly self-motivated,” Grewal says. “But for kids, camps are definitely better to help facilitate learning and engagement.”
Camps that teach video game design are another great option for children. Because if your kids can’t seem to peel their eyes away from their screens — be it iPads, laptops, or TV — then why not have them learn how to make a video game, themselves?
Grewal is a major proponent of game design camps, citing them as the reason for his initial interest in coding. He started over the summer in elementary school, where he was taught basic Python to develop a simple computer game. Because he was doing something he was already interested in, Grewal viewed learning something as complicated as coding as more of a fun activity rather than a school-related task.
Game design is also becoming a rapidly-growing industry. Especially with eSports on the rise, specialized software developers are needed now more than ever to help create the next bestselling video game.
For kids that love interacting with their peers, joining a school or online coding club may offer additional benefits. While programming is often viewed as an individual activity done in solidarity, clubs encourage students with like-minded interests in coding to help each other out with tips and advice. Students often find it beneficial to have others help them troubleshoot their issues.
“It’s a good way to talk with other people who are interested,” Grewal says. “You learn from other people, who then learn from you.”
However you plan to approach coding for kids, it’s important to always keep an open mind. Because no matter how much they may like legos or game design, it’s still possible that coding just isn’t the right activity for them. But starting by gauging your child’s interest with some of these tips wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps they might just become the next tech founder.
It is that time of year again; the time for kids to explore, learn and grow without the structure and conformity of school. Summer is the perfect opportunity to really delve into what your child enjoys and foster that passion using uniquely designed programs. When people hear the word camp, most think of a tent, a fire and bugs, but camp can be so much more. Check out these unique summer camps:
Whether your kid are 5 and want to be a bird when they grow up or 15 and pursuing aviation as a college option, Hiller Aviation Camp encourages this passion through hands on activities and models, aircraft demonstration, behind the scenes museum gallery, and aviation themed games. Flying camps teach science and life skills in a fun way that allow children to enjoy their experiences, while also continuing their education.
Sometimes you can just tell from a young age that your child is going to be a spy detective for the CIA. As unrealistic as that may sound, you really just never know. If your child enjoys spies, spy movies, or spying on his/her older siblings (or younger), develop that passion by giving him or her a summer filled with mystery, thrill and suspense. Spy Camps keep your child active with secret missions to accomplish each day. Whether you think your child will be a spy for the CIA or a detective for the police force, it is never too soon for you to encourage that pursuit.
According to the dictionary, a person with a compulsive desire for excitement and adventure is an adrenaline junkie. Adrenaline, however is not necessarily a bad thing. It prepares the body for stressful or physically demanding situations. You never know when you will need your adrenaline to kick and save your life or the life of another. Adventure camps develop a child’s sense of adventure through hiking, exploring and playing. Teaching positive ways of releasing energy helps children later in life know how to cope with the constant stresses of day-to-day life.
Your little fashionista probably isn’t going to be into the whole muddy, dirty experience of sleeping on the ground and exploring the wilderness that is offered at an average camp. However, the idea may be a little more appealing to him/her if there was some kind of fashion involved. Fashion may seem like a passion your child will grow out of, but it is important to develop this passion in a way that gives them life skills. It isn’t just putting on pretty clothes; it’s a lot of hard work. At fashion and sewing camps, your child will learn how to come up with an idea, sketch it out, and then create it with master cutting and sewing skills. Inspire their creativity and sense of style at fashion camps across the world.
Legos may seem like just a toy, but they are in fact great teaching tools and used by some of the most well known professions. Engineering, construction, and developing all start with one simple design, and this design can be created using “toys” such as a Legos. They also help with spatial skills and math concepts that children may not realize they’re even learning. Lego robotics, spatial skills, engineering, and so much more are at the heart of a kid who plays with legos. So, if you have a Lego obsessed child, get them into a LEGO camp to support their passion and desire to learn.
Unique camps are a tremendous way to foster a child’s creativity and enhance their learning experience. It may not always be possible to send your child to a week long camp at $80 a day or more, so read part 2 for ways to transform an ordinary camp ground into a fashionista dream land or spy camp never spied before.
Need something entertain your kids when they’re not at school? These 8 easy, at-home maker activities will keep hands busy and minds sharp.
By the Editors of ActivityHero
What’s the solution for beating kids’ “brain drain” while on extended school closures? Maker activities! According to the education website Edutopia, “A Maker is an individual who communicates, collaborates, tinkers, fixes, breaks, rebuilds, and constructs projects for the world around him or her.” (It’s easy to see why the Maker philosophy has become so popular!)
Luckily, ActivityHero has a close relationship with hundreds of summer camp counselors and activity providers who know a thing or two about maker activities and where to find them. Here are a few of our editors’ favorites – and a handful of helpful websites where you can find enough ideas to last all year long.
Here’s a clever solution for those weeks when you can’t make it to the craft store: Sign up for a monthly subscription to Kiwi Crate. This company delivers – directly to your home – everything you need to “tinker, create, and innovate.” Each Kiwi Crate is chock-full of high-quality materials, kid-friendly instructions, a maker project, and a special magazine, all designed for ages 5 to 8. For ages 9 to 16+, the site also offers Doodle Crates (for art enthusiasts) and Tinker Crates (for STEM subject fans). Preschoolers (ages 3 and 4) can enjoy playful fun with a Koala Crate, which includes a parent guide to support “inquiry-based learning,” a magazine, and plenty of creative activities.
Here’s a squeaky-clean indoor activity from Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas. All you need is a bar of Ivory soap and a microwave. Follow the instructions carefully, using just one-third or one-quarter of the bar; if you toss in the whole bar, your soap blob will grow to mammoth proportions. Also allow the “soap cloud” to cool for a bit and test the temperature yourself before letting kids touch it. Then check out the website for some fun things to do with the fluffy soap after ooh-ing and ahh-ing over its expansion. Sudsy snowballs anyone?
Build a Brushbot
You may be familiar with Science Buddies as a resource for winning science-fair project ideas, kits, and guides. It’s also a great place to find summer projects like this brushbot, which was created by a Ph.D., and includes a materials list, complete instructions, and ideas for ways to “explore more” once the project is complete. Take a look at their “Awesome Science for Summer Break!” page for more cool ideas, including how to make a paper speaker, build a mini trebuchet, and generate electricity with a lemon battery. Complete kits for projects like these are also available at the Science Buddies online store.
Cool Off with Ice Cream in a Bag
On Growing a Jeweled Rose, ideas abound for parents searching for ways to help kids play, learn, and grow. Their offerings include plenty of “play recipes,” which is delicious fun for kids who love to spend time in the kitchen. One of our favorites during warm weather is Ice Cream in a Bag! Even very little children can help make this concoction using heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar. (You’ll also need salt and ice cubes, but those don’t go in the creamy mixture.) After the project is put together, it takes 5 to 10 minutes of shaking to create an ice creamy treat, which means your children will use up some of that kid energy. View their 100+ Play Recipes right here.
Create Wind-Powered Lego Contraptions
On Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls, Lego projects abound – in fact, there’s a whole section that includes activities and projects using these colorful bricks. The Lego windmill shown here requires a few special bricks and a couple of minutes to assemble, but your kids can create their own options using whatever Lego bricks they have on hand. (Be sure you supervise them when using a fan.) Click on the site’s LEGOS tab for Lego engineering ideas using pulleys, a Lego matching game, and a Lego Minifigure display.
Other tabs lead you to activities for babies and kids of all ages, family fun, homeschooling, seasonal projects, and even a special section to help you organize toys and clean up after projects … in a fun but frugal way.
Bake Some Movie Night Cupcakes
If you’d prefer to do your “making” in the kitchen, why not have some creative baking kits and mixes delivered to your home? Visit Foodstirs, a website created by Sarah Michelle Gellar and two of her closest friends. We unanimously voted two thumbs up on the Movie Night Cupcake Kit – for a fun twist to your standard movie night snacks. To learn where the delicious idea for Foodstirs originated, read the interview ActivityHero snagged with Sarah Michelle when she wasn’t busy cooking up a storm.
Earn Patches for All Sorts of Projects
If your kids love a little extra incentive, consider joining DIY, an ad-free website designed to be “The School We Wish We Had.” This website provides thousands of activities for kids and is a safe, supportive online learning community with 99.7% kind comments in its posts. Try it free for 14 days!
On this site, kids can explore new skills or increase their proficiency in activities they love. They can take part in a challenge, receive feedback from other kids, and earn patches for their work. Many of them also share photos or videos of their accomplishments (with parental permission and using an avatar), and other kids can turn to them for inspiration. Along the way, staff mentors offer help and encouragement when needed, and parents can access reports to see what DIY activities their kids are trying.
Trending topics include a daily challenge, science, Lego, Minecraft, and stopmotion. To join the community, visit DIY.org or download the app on your iPhone or iPad.
Learn how LEGO® camps and classes can help unlock your kids’ interest in S.T.E.M. subjects and build important life skills. Plus: Discover 4 questions will help you find the right LEGO® program for your child.
By Laura Quaglio
Fun fact for LEGO® fans: These versatile building bricks got their brand name from a mashup of two Danish words: leg and godt, meaning play well. Since LEGO® bricks were launched in 1958, kids and adults alike have certainly taken “play well” as a personal challenge, creating LEGO® masterpieces (Will Ferrell’s New York scene in the movie Elf comes to mind), attending LEGO® festivals and conventions, and flocking to see The LEGO® Movie last year.
If you’ve got a kid who loves all things LEGO®, here’s a great gift idea that can help them take their building skills far beyond play time: Enroll them in an after school class or camp that uses LEGO® bricks as a tool for exploring, learning, and having fun.
Kim Nguyen-Ehrenreich is owner and executive director of Bricks 4 Kidz San Francisco, an organization that does just that. Her company (which has franchises in in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), teaches the fundamentals of S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects through the use of LEGO® bricks, using custom model plans created for Bricks 4 Kidz by engineers and architects.
How LEGO® Building Helps Kids Understand S.T.E.M. Subjects
The Bricks 4 Kidz programs don’t serve as another hour of classwork for kids, says Kim, but offer kids an engaging way to learn science and tech through hands-on building. Specifically, these “S.T.E.M. enrichment” courses guide kids to learn math, science, engineering, and technology concepts to help them build LEGO® models and robots. “Anything that’s interactive makes learning a lot easier,” says Kim. “I think our main goal is to get the kids to be excited about S.T.E.M. subjects so they can move forward in that area.” By learning how these subjects apply to something they love – LEGO® bricks – kids may develop an interest in S.T.E.M., eventually leading to success in school and a rewarding career.
Though many branches of science are touched upon during the 1-hour afternoon classes – including physics, engineering, life science, and others – the two points of the day’s activities are for the kids to learn and remember something related to the S.T.E.M. concept and to have some creative fun. Kids of all ages are able to use LEGO® bricks and technic gears to create simple moving robots, with help from their instructors and age-appropriate plans. Older kids – say, in third and fourth grades — also work with simple drag-and-drop coding computer software to “program” the robots to make sounds or move in a particular way. “We try to make these subjects enjoyable for them,” says Kim. “If they can also take away a key concept for the day, we’re very happy.”
Why Not Just Build at Home?
Though free play with LEGO® bricks does allow kids to be creative, many of the new kits on the market today are essentially models, explains Kim. Often, kids will get a kit, build it, and leave it intact, she says. “So the element of free play is out the door.” In Kim’s programs, kids use LEGO® technic bricks to build something entirely new each week. Also, the model plans used by Bricks 4 Kidz were designed just for Kim’s programs, so they’re different from anything kids will find on store shelves. (A quick tip from Kim: Be sure to get your LEGO® fan some bricks that aren’t part of a kit – or get them an extra kit or two that they won’t leave intact — so they can dream up their own projects at home!)
Using LEGO® to Build Important Life Skills
Bricks 4 Kidz programs teach skills that help kids in all aspects of life, not just S.T.E.M. subjects. “They learn how to work in a team setting,” says Kim. They also develop fine motor skills, as well a self-confidence and perseverance. “Building a model is not always easy,” says Kim. Working to complete a challenge helps build patience and character. And kids take the skills they learn in S.T.E.M. LEGO® class back to their school classroom and their play room at home. “I’ve heard from a few of the parents that kids who took our classes seem to be more focused on whatever project they’re working on,” says Kim. “They become more excited about building with LEGO® models and learning about science.”
Finding a Great LEGO®-Based Program
There are LEGO®-based kids’ programs popping up all across the U.S. — and not just in the sciences. You may find LEGO® art classes, LEGO®-themed birthday parties, model-building camps, and even activities focused on developing civic responsibility and leadership. (You’ll find plenty of options on ActivityHero!)
Here are a few key questions Kim suggests you consider when checking out LEGO®-based programs in your area:
Is class placement based on both age and skill level? In LEGO®-based programs, the curriculum should be age-appropriate, says Kim, but instructors should be sensitive to the needs and abilities of each individual child. “Some kids have really defined fine motor skills as a kindergartener,” she says. This means they might be really good at manipulating tiny bricks and assembling more complex models than other kids in their grade. At Bricks 4 Kidz, children are paired with others who have a similar skill level, which helps them work together in a way that allows them to build their self-confidence and learn cooperation and patience.
Is the curriculum unique to that program? Kim’s program uses special plans created by engineers and architects. This means that the kids in her programs will be completing models that aren’t available elsewhere.
What are the goals of the program? For the younger kids, goals are probably more basic. Children might learn to break down a project into small goals and solve problems along the way. They begin by sorting and identify the pieces, reading simple project plans, and learning how different bricks and gears work together. As kids get older, they can explore other skills, such as using pre-coding software to direct a robotic LEGO® creation to move or make sounds upon command.
Is there individualized attention? Rather than have a lot of kids working on one big model, Bricks 4 Kidz encourages children to work in pairs and on smaller, motorized models. She says this gives each child plenty of hands-on time – and a greater sense of accomplishment.
For girls, are there gender-neutral or girls-only programs available? Currently, all Bricks 4 Kidz programs are gender-neutral, says Kim, but she plans to expand the girls-only offerings in the coming years. “Particularly with middle-school girls, it’s hard to keep them interested in S.T.E.M. subjects,” says Kim. “We have to pull them in a little more and help them build their confidence.” Programs designed for girls can help do just that.
What are the instructors like? When hiring instructors, Kim looks for people who are going to be mentors for kids. “We look for people who love to be with kids and to be able to help them learn,” she says. “They make a connection with the kids and encourage them to take on challenges. We have kids coming out of our programs really loving our teachers.” Ask to meet with some of the instructors, ask for some specific information about the teachers, or read their bios so you can tell if the teacher will be a good match for your children.
Does the program look beyond LEGO®? “We’re not exclusive to LEGO®,” says Kim, who is offering winter break camps that teach kids about renewable energy, the water cycle, and water conversation – a current hot topic due to the ongoing California drought. “We’re teaching kids about the things their parents hear on the news that impact our daily lives,” says Kim. “There’s no limitation to LEGO®,” she adds. “But we incorporate a lot of mediums in our full-day camps to teach different aspects of our focused theme.”
Getting More from LEGO® Play at Home
One of the easiest ways to encourage your kids to get more out of every LEGO® session at home, says Kim, is to sit down and play with them! “I think when parents sit down with their child, that helps kids feel confidence in building,” says Kim. “And it helps build the level of connection between the parents and their kid.” Though Kim acknowledges that it can be tough to find time to build with your children on a weekly basis, her company sometimes offers mother-daughter and other parent-child workshops that carve out a bit of time for you to bond over a big, colorful pile of these time-honored toys.
Find a LEGO®-Based Activity in Your Area
Ready to see what LEGO® classes and camps are offered in your community? ActivityHero can help! Check out our special LEGO®-based offerings today, and give your child a LEGO®-related gift that will keep them playing happily throughout the winter!
If you have a Lego lover, or even if you don’t, you can have some fun and creative activities with these everlasting bricks. These Lego activity ideas require minimal prep time and as long as you have Legos (or Duplos for the younger crowd) somewhere in your house, you are already halfway prepared. I pull out these ideas when my son is looking for something to do on a snow day or when I need a few minutes of quiet to take a deep breath or read a few chapters of my library book.
While these activities work great for kiddos alone, they really start to break the imagination barrier when you get the kids working in groups. You can try a few of these out for your next play date, Scout meeting, or even a Lego themed birthday party. Compete in teams or work in groups and then share the creations. No matter how you use these activities, you are sure to find some meaningful (and educational) time together. Let’s get started!
Problem Solving Situations This one is my preschooler’s favorite and I love that it works his imagination and critical thinking. Before your group arrives (or while they are having a snack or playing in the other room), set up Lego figures in situations that require intervention. For example, figures trying to cross a shark infested river (like the photo), figures trying to climb a bookcase to retrieve a treasure, or figures trying to open a drawer. It doesn’t have to be a major production, so don’t worry if you can’t come up with a major storyline and situation. Instead, you are just giving your group the starting point.
Let the kids know that they can create anything with their Legos to help the figures solve their problem. You’ll be surprised and impressed when you see them create creations from ladders to spaceships to help their figures solve the problem. Once they have created, give them time to talk about their ideas with the rest of the group.
The great thing about Legos is that you don’t need a lot of direction to get kids thinking differently or creatively. Try out a color puzzle with your group and see how they use the colors to make a new creation.
Simply grab some crayons (make sure you only use colors that match your Lego stash) and make a pattern on a piece of paper. Then, ask your group to use the Legos to create something that matches the color instructions. They might have lots of questions at first, but simply let them build whatever they want. It just has to match the color puzzle that you laid out for them.
Pre-build a few creations to put at the end of the room. Tuck the pre-built creation into a shoebox so that it is not visible from anywhere else in the room. At the other side of the room, or the starting line, put a pile of Legos that includes pieces and colors that match the shoebox creations. Group children into teams, and let them know that their objective is to work together to build the project that is completed at the other side of the room. When you start the race, each child runs to the end of the room to look at the creation and comes back to the start line to start to create the finished product that he just saw. Once he places a few pieces, it is the next child’s turn to run down, take a look, and return to build on what they have started. Continue with this until the team thinks that they have built the exact replica of item in the shoebox.
When they think that they have it, I like to have them yell something silly like “Legopalooza” or “Happy birthday Johnny!”. Once they yell that they have it, you can inspect their creation. If it matches, they win and if it doesn’t match, they have to keep racing to figure it out.
Depending on the age and skill of your group, you can make the shoebox creations easy or more difficult to replicate. It is fun to watch the kids form a strategy and then adapt that course of action as the race continues. I love Lego races because it gives the brain and the body a good workout.
Start with a Book
I’m always looking for ways to incorporate books into our home activities. I am an avid reader and, so far, so is my son. I think that the more we can get good literature into our day, the better and more imaginative our day is.
For this activity, you only need a good read-aloud book and a pile of Legos. Read the book to your group and then have them build something (individually or in groups) that is inspired by the book. Try not to give them ideas or any further direction and just watch where their imagination leads them. After they build, give them a chance to explain their creation to the group and how the book inspired it. Not only is this activity excellent for imagination, it is also great for comprehension, which is a major reading readiness skill.
These are just a few ways that you can breathe some life into your Lego activity sets. If you have Lego lovers that still can’t get enough, you might want to check out these awesome Lego Camps or Classes!
ActivityHero spoke with Prerana Vadiya, the CEO of Kidizens to learn more about their unique program.
How do LEGOs and being a mayor go together?
At Kidizens’ Summer Camps, children (grades K-3 and 3-6) learn all about the civics and economics of managing and governing a city! In a one or two week intensive, action-packed session, children partner up to create and run their own small civilization from TONS of LEGOs. As mayors, our campers have LOTS of responsibility and opportunities for leadership –they’ll be providing residents of their cities with EVERYTHING they need to stay safe, healthy, and happy! At the same time, the mayors will be managing natural disasters, solving everyday problems, dealing with budgetary crises, holding inter-city summits to work with neighboring cities, and handling animated court cases!
Our Kidizens team will present real-life lessons and necessary information on all topics and create newer challenges as well as opportunities for problem solving!
Do you have kids returning each year?
Kidizens’ Summer Camps have built upon the successes of previous camps and its established year long civics and real life social studies programs. Our summer camps have received tremendous parent endorsements and have become increasingly popular: many kids have returned for a second and third year. All the summer camps are run by experienced teachers and supported by dedicated volunteers.