[Editor's note: The following was submitted by Prerana Vaidya of Kidizens.]
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Belmont, and while many elementary school students are just beginning to unwind from a long school day, a group of ten children, ranging in age from six to nine, are sitting down to a city council meeting.
The issue at hand? A house in their city has been abandoned by the owner and has recently been revealed to be of historical value. Some residents are pushing to go ahead with previous proposal to convert the building into a homeless shelter, while others now maintain that the house should be preserved as an historic site.
Children stand in front of the group to present their respective arguments. Finally, the issue is brought to an anonymous vote. And, just around the corner, the "real" Belmont City Council meets ever other Tuesday to discuss and vote on very similar issues.
Exercise in critical thinking and collaboration using Legos
This exercise in critical thinking, problem solving and public speaking is all part of the amazing experience at Kidizens, where groups of children spend anywhere from a semester to a year building systemically functioning cities entirely out of Legos.
The goal of the program is simple: Inspire students to develop the real-life skills they need to become good citizens and future leaders of tomorrow.
In the program, students develop cities from the grounds up and follow a detailed curriculum, where “kid citizens” take on roles such as mayor, sheriff, city planner, and ambassador.
They work cooperatively to determine the kind of city governance that is required and they solve problems relating to the city, its residents and frequently occurring natural disasters, while keeping the city budget in control. Once the city infrastructure is ready, they also develop, own and operate their own businesses.
They discover the need for cities to provide for public safety, write laws, and pass legislation that takes into account and balances the often divergent wishes of other Kidizens. In this fun and highly interactive, social environment, they learn about social studies, civics, history, economics, money management, government, architecture, the environment, problem solving, writing, public speaking and much more.
Kidizens is a guided discovery program. There is a teacher/facilitator for every city and its group of kids, going through the lessons and often providing historical and local perspectives to the issues at hand, but the children make all the rules, vote on proposals and take all decisions through a group participatory process.
Kidizens uses Legos, but it's really about the interactive social play. If your kid like Legos, they will have fun. If your kid is more into Playmobil, they will love Kidizens! If your kid is a thinker and a problem solver, then they won't be able to get enough of it.
But most of all, it's fun!
Kidizens lets children explore possibilities for themselves, and come to their own conclusions and solutions, without any preconceived notion of what "the answer" or "best way" should be.
Most of all, it's fun. The kids who do it enjoy it, and can't get enough of it. The children are playing together, and at the same time learning important life lessons.
Sample civic project
In Sunbeam City, Aden is hard at work cultivating his own organic garden.
With natural irrigation from a nearby river, the garden is producing such tasty treats as apples, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Farmer Aden is even keeping beehives, and expects his first honey harvest shortly!
Aden's prized produce caught the attention of Sunbeam City officials, who have asked him to be an official supplier at Sunbeam City sponsored events (such as the upcoming citywide Fall Festival).
Building a small civilization
Kidizens is offering , age-appropriate, 1-week and 2-weeks, summer camps at the Belmont location. The Kidizens Summer program includes intensive action and excitement-packed sessions, where children create their own small civilization built with LEGOs and serve as Co-Mayors for a week.
Kidizens also offers in-school workshops (customized to meet teacher-specific social-studies objectives), weekend birthday parties, robotics classes and group drop-in sessions to supplement the standard program offerings.
Here’s what parents have to say about the program:
“Kidizens brings to life a multifaceted combination of civic responsibility, free enterprise and LEGO construction. Combining these attributes with role playing is an outstanding way for kids to learn practical skills in a playful environment. Kidizens is a weekly highlight for our son George.”
“My son loves coming to Kidizens each week. The hands-on experience of actually building a city from the ground up has been very exciting for him. Along the way he ran for mayor, worked on public and private transportation projects and created his own business. He will definitely be a more informed citizen and what fun it was in the process!”
“Kidizens is an excellent program. Our 8 year old looks forward to it all week and learns a lot about the way the world works — practical civics, town planning, rule of law, democracy, finance, practical probability, design, etc. — while also learning to cooperate with real and imaginary fellow town-residents. Plus it’s all in LEGO! Enormously valuable.”
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