Fri08292014

Schools

Complex LEGO towns turn local students into Kidizens


Courtesy of Kidizens
Kidizens participants make decisions that affect the operations of their LEGO cities. Students attend the program’s city council meeting.

Using more than a million LEGO pieces and 1,000 square feet of green space, local students have the opportunity to create, manage and oversee their own cities through Kidizens, an after-school program offered in Los Altos.

At the start of the program, students ages 8-12 – dubbed “kidizens” – are tasked with creating their own LEGO cities from a space that contains only LEGO grass, water and mountains. The program offers different sessions each day of the week, with every class governing their own city within a larger Kidizens state.

“Each group of kids builds one city among these multiple cities,” said Prerana Vaidya, CEO of the program. “The cities and students are interacting with each other. The kids build different infrastructure projects, come up with laws and policies – it’s a very dynamic system.”

The Kidizens’ economy uses its own currency, the LEGO Dot. Each child begins with 1,200 Dots. Right away, the new Kidizens will have to make some difficult choices. With a limited bank account, they are charged with designing and constructing their new homes. The bigger or higher the house, the more Dots it will cost.

The city treasury storehouses the Dots. The more buildings the city constructs, the more taxes it will need to take from each kidizen’s bank account.

“It’s all about critical thinking and a lot of problem solving,” Vaidya said. “Many kids come in rather shy and take a few weeks to break out of that mold. Over time, they start to speak up and find a voice.”

In addition to the logistics of building a city from scratch, students learn money management via concepts such as budgets, loans, profits and overhead as they take on roles as entrepreneurs opening new businesses in their respective cities.

All the kidizens serve on the city council, which meets during each class. They learn how to propose laws, offer amendments and debate from the floor of their council chambers.

Eventually, the cities hold their own mayoral elections and students’ participation in the city becomes more defined.

Teachers oversee the kidizens, guiding discussions, providing perspective and background and imparting mini-lessons on the subject at hand, but the students have all the power when it comes to running their cities.

The program is more than just another LEGO play-based camp, according to Nancy Krop, whose fifth-grade son attended the summer session in Los Altos.

“My son does camps every summer, and this was the first camp that when I picked him up, he was counting the hours until he returned,” she said. “He was the mayor and he just loved it. What I thought was fascinating was he didn’t even know he was learning political science and economics.”

Krop said she was surprised to walk in one day and see her son giving a speech to his fellow kidizens.

“He was just so excited to participate,” she said. “He walked away with more self-confidence, self-esteem and interest in government.”

The Kidizens program – which sponsors supplementary programs for younger and older students – has scheduled fall and spring sessions, with the first 15 weeks in the fall ready to kick off at Village Court, 4546 El Camino Real, Los Altos.

The sessions are slated after school hours, but the program also runs a well-attended day program for home-schooled students.

For pricing, a class schedule and more information, visit thekidizens.com.

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