When we think back to our kindergarten days, most of us remember simple things like picture books, recess and nap time. But now, a new technological challenge is bringing 21st century skills to children as young as four. While it might not be the kindergarten you remember, experts say it’s the best way to prepare young students for the future.
The “Ready, Set, Robotics” challenge is part of a summer program at Primrose Schools, a network of more than 400 early childhood centers across the country. Their STEM-based learning programs focus on technology, teaching students how to build and program robots from scratch. “This is the starting point for all of our future great thinkers,” said Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education at Primrose, who said children from kindergarten through fifth grade are now learning skills normally taught to older students. “Younger kids love robotics and they can code, so we designed a developmentally appropriate robotics competition for early primary schools.”
The first week of the program introduces the basics of construction: students become familiar with the technology by seeing how robots actually work on a mechanical and programming level. Then, the game begins. Students work in groups to help the robot, nicknamed “Dash,” navigate the maze and complete special tasks—including saving their favorite stuffed animals. The winning team will receive funds to donate to a charity of their choice. Dr Shaheen said what impressed teachers most was the way young students were engaged in learning new technologies. “The kids absolutely love the robot,” she said. “It had very simple drag-and-drop coding, and that’s where robotics started.”
In addition to building these key engineering and programming skills, the Robotics Challenge focuses heavily on character development, teaching children problem-solving and collaboration while they have fun in the classroom. “They can use coding,” Dr. Shaheen said, “but more importantly, can they use their character development skills? You know, sharing and respecting others, developing friendships.”
Next year, when Primrose kicks off its second annual Teen Robotics Competition, the focus on STEM and robotics will continue – and possibly expand. Similar classes may soon be in classrooms near you; by 2030, it is estimated that at least 70 percent of U.S. schools will have robotics classes.