Even the most advanced engineers rely on a few fundamental building blocks to be successful.
Teamwork, following instructions and basic knowledge of how parts function — they’re all in an engineer’s toolkit.
Those fundamentals are precisely what 10 children between the ages of 5 and 8 are learning this week during LEGO Building Basics Camp, held the second week of spring break, at kidscommons children’s museum in Columbus.
The camp takes LEGOs, a toy that many children are familiar with, and uses them as a vehicle to learn. Instructors help students create a knowledge base of LEGO components, understanding how they work, and build several structures using LEGO kits.
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This week’s challenge for camp participants: Create two moving mini vehicles and figure out how they are different.
Shouts of triumph and mutterings of disappointment were both heard on the first day of camp as the children — paired into teams of two — attempted to build their first LEGO vehicle, using the instruction booklet as their guide.
“It’s there! It’s this one!” said Josh VanValkenburg, 8, holding up the missing piece and showing it to his partner, Chimnay Karyekar, 7.
“These are too short,” Abby Dane, 5, said of some of her LEGO pieces as she started to tear her vehicle apart — not for the first time.
Some members of the class were finding it hard to stick to the instructions, wanting to build quickly as they would at home instead of taking their time to understand how each part worked — often at the sacrifice of function.
The week-long class attempts to teach kids how everything works together and why they need to use certain parts over others, said Liz Peterson-Damm, kidscommons education manager.
To accomplish this, Peterson-Damm and Jessica Norcross, the other camp instructor, often have to slow the kids down when instinctively they want to be the first to finish.
“You can stop them (the kids) and reveal something small that they need to change, and they don’t think it is going to matter,” Peterson-Damm said. “Then they realize that it does.”
That moment of clarity came for Abby when she realized that different pieces perform different functions, such as allowing a wheel to turn versus a connector peg that will hold the wheel steady.
And while students need to understand how each piece works, they must also learn how to work together with one another and help their partner.
“They have to learn some of those negotiation tools of how to help someone, but not do it for them,” Peterson-Damm said.
Instructors Peterson-Damm and Norcross have learned that some children define helping a partner as finishing the task for them. However, the real goal is for both children to learn how to correctly complete their assignments through practice, and to keep them active in the building process, the teachers aid.
In a city that is home to more mechanical engineers per capita than any other city in the world, a demand for engineers exists among local employers — and future Cummins engineers could be grasping basic engineering concepts in camp this week that they may put to work as professionals a decade or two from now.
The camp is a prerequisite for LEGO Engineering and LEGO Robotics camps, where children can further their knowledge. However, the popularity of LEGOs can make these programs difficult to get into, with a 12-student limit in each class, Peterson-Damm said.
Parents interested in enrolling their child in LEGO Building Basics Camp should act fast as remaining slots for the June 5-8 camp will fill up quickly, she said.
LEGO Building Basics
What: Introductory LEGO class where children will learn the building blocks of design and engineering by creating multiple projects.
When: June 5-9
Where: kidscommons, 309 Washington St.
Who: Children, ages 5-8.
Cost: $110 for members, $125 for non-members
Registration deadline: May 22