Most people have ridden on a Ferris wheel or played on a see-saw at some point in their life. And most have seen a catapult, even if only in a movie or on television. But how many could actually build one of those things?
A group of local youngsters actually did just that recently. Meeting on Thursday evenings over the course of several weeks, these children – some of whom are still in kindergarten – constructed those machines and others and, in the process, learned a little about the science behind how they work.
Of course, we’re not talking about Great Adventure-sized Ferris wheels or catapults of the caliber that could have been used to lay siege to a castle in the Middle Ages. We’re talking about a much smaller scale. We’re talking Lego scale, in fact.
But make no mistake – while these miniature machines were built using specialized pieces of the popular construction toy line, they functioned just as their life-sized counterparts do. Equipped with battery-powered motors, each of the Ferris wheels turned just as they were supposed to. And, to the excitement of the kids, each catapult fired a wad of paper across the room.
Welcome to the Central Jersey franchise of Bricks 4 Kidz, a business that uses Lego construction toys to help children learn about science, technology, engineering, math and architecture. Founded about five years ago by a Florida mother whose son loved playing with Lego bricks, Bricks 4 Kidz now has over 100 franchises across the United States and Canada.
“Bricks 4 Kidz is an afterschool enrichment program,” explained Nancy Araujo, owner of the Bricks 4 Kidz franchise that is based in Lawrence Township. Working with local school districts and parent-teacher organizations in an effort to reinforce the lessons students learn during the school day, Bricks 4 Kids offers afterschool lessons either at individual schools or its Creativity Center in the Quakerbridge Village Commons shopping center at 4110 Quakerbridge Rd. in Lawrence.
“We utilize our model plans, which we produce, and our project kits, which contain somewhat specialized pieces of Lego bricks, to build motorized models. We have over 100 different models, and they’re separated into different themes, such as ‘Interesting Inventions,’ ‘Laws and Motion,’ and ‘Energy Everywhere.’
“We have a curriculum and lesson plans we follow. We teach the children about what they’re about to build. That lasts about 5-10 minutes. And then they get to build utilizing the model plans and project kits.”
For the recent “Laws and Motion” program held on Thursday evenings, lead teacher Katie Leonard worked with the students to help them construct their models. In the process, she showed them Newton’s laws of motion in action and explained the meaning behind words like mass, lever and fulcrum.
In addition to classes regularly offered at the Creativity Center in Lawrence, Bricks 4 Kidz is offering afterschool programs at schools in several local districts, including East Brunswick, West Windsor-Plainsboro and Hopewell Valley, Araujo said. She said programs may be offered in the near future at Lawrenceville Elementary School.
“Sometimes we’re incorporated into the school day, like science class,” she said. “Instead of actually having the science teacher teach the science class, we come in and the kids get to build a model in relation to something that they’re learning about. We’re currently doing that with a charter school in Hamilton and we go there every Friday and we spend time with their third-graders. And they love it.”
A full list of classes currently being offered by Araujo, as well as week-long “camps” that will be offered during the summer months, can be found by clicking here. On the weekends, Lego-themed birthday parties are hosted at the Creativity Center.
Araujo, a resident of Roosevelt in Monmouth County, started the Central Jersey Bricks 4 Kidz franchise and opened the Creativity Center in Lawrence Township last year in April.
Having worked in a government job for 12 years, she had grown tired of the long hours and wanted to spend more time with her husband and their two sons, one of whom will soon turn 14 and the other being 5 years old.
While doing research online looking for new career options, Araujo discovered Bricks 4 Kidz and realized it was exactly what she was looking for. “My older son is a big fan of Lego. He loves, loves Lego. And my younger son does too,” she said. “It really fits my family situation. As a parent myself, I really liked the concept of it. Children love building with Lego. There’s the creativity aspect of it. And they’re learning about things like engineering and putting that into play.
“We’re not affiliated with or endorsed by Lego,” Araujo noted. “But we utilize Lego because of the quality of their product. We know they’re the best type of building brick out there.”
The Creativity Center is filled with Lego pieces of all sizes and colors, from Duplo blocks for younger children to specialized pieces capable of being used to build a “Star Wars” spaceship.
Children of all ages take part in Bricks 4 Kidz classes, but most are between 5 and 11 years old. Araujo said the children love it when they create models that move.
“When they take the 15 minutes to build and then they turn on that switch and they see it come to life, they’re just wowed,” she said. “On top of that, these kids modify it. They make it bigger. They make it faster. And that’s where the true creation comes into play. They follow the model plan but then we have them put the plan away and we have them build upon what they just created. And that’s the best thing.”
Araujo said she enjoys nurturing the children’s creativity and helping them explore their imaginations.
“It’s unbelievable, especially with the children who come in and are a little discouraged or say that they cannot build,” she explained. “We basically find some pieces and they build upon it and it’s incredible. As an adult, I see them building what they see in their head and it truly becomes a creation. And it’s even better when they’re saying they can’t build.
“I had that once where a student at the beginning of a summer camp just sat there. ‘I don’t know what to build. I can’t build.’ And I said, ‘Let’s start out with the foundation.’ I gave him a base plate. I said, ‘Let’s start out with a couple of these pieces and let’s build upward.’ Next thing you know, by the end of the week, incredible. I literally asked him, ‘What did you say at the beginning of the week.’ And he actually laughed. Once they get started, it’s endless.”
For more information, including “open play” hours at the Creativity Center, visit the Bricks 4 Kidz website or call (609) 325-6832.
Lego is a trademark of the Lego Group and is not affiliated with Bricks 4 Kidz.