When we think back on our kindergarten days, most of us remember the uncomplicated things like picture books, recess, and nap time. But now, a new tech challenge is bringing 21st century skills to kids as young as four. And while that 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 the summer program at Primrose Schools, which operates more than 400 early education centers around the country. Their STEM-based learning curriculum is putting a heavy focus on technology, teaching students how to build and program a robot from the ground up. "This is where all of our future brilliant thinkers are starting," according to Dr. Maria Shaheen, Primrose’s Early Childhood Education Senior Director, who says kids from kindergarten to fifth grade are now learning skills that are usually taught to much older students. "Young children love robotics, they're able to code and so, we designed a developmentally-appropriate robotics competition just for early elementary."
The first week of the program introduces the basics of building: the students get acquainted with the technology by getting to know how the robots actually work on both a mechanical and a programming level. Then, the competition begins. Students work in teams to help the robot, nicknamed ‘Dash,’ navigate mazes and complete special missions – including rescuing their favorite stuffed animals. The winning teams were given funds to donate to charities of their choice. Dr. Shaheen says what struck the teachers the most was the way the younger students dove right into learning the new technology. "The children absolutely love this robot," she says. "It has really easy drag-and-drop coding, and that's the very beginning of robotics."
In addition to building those key engineering and programming skills, the robotics challenge also focuses heavily on character development, teaching young kids problem-solving and collaboration while they have fun in the classroom. "They can use coding," says Dr. Shaheen, "but more importantly, can they use their character development skills? You know, sharing and respect for others, developing friendships."
The focus on STEM and robotics will continue – and possibly expand – next year, when Primrose kicks off the 2nd Annual Junior Robotics Competition. And similar programs could be coming soon to a classroom near you; it’s estimated at least 70% of American schools will offer robotics classes by 2030.