LIVINGSTON, NJ – For 18 years, Livingston has designated one week to honoring the town’s youth by designing and sponsoring events that allow kids to connect with the community as well as with each other. This year, Livingston Youth Appreciation Week (YAW) began on May 19 and will end Memorial Day. Following Monday’s YAW Kickoff, Tuesday’s events included the first-ever “Building Kidz” experience, where children in grades K-5 gathered at the Livingston Community Center and built their very own robots.
Bonnie Spring, owner of Building Kidz, had an idea to help children connect through LEGOs five years ago when her son asked to join a Lego team. This week, Livingston invited Spring and her fellow Building Kidz coaches to assist Livingston’s children as they built WeDo and Mindstorms LEGO projects.
“What we do promotes teamwork and communication,” Spring said. “The kids get a chance to work with someone instead of alone or with a parent like they do at home.”
During the two Building Kidz sessions, up to 40 children in grades K-2 participated in the building of WeDo LEGO projects using motors, gears and sensors. Ultimately, these projects connected to laptops, which taught the children how to program with a picture-based system that made their models move and make sounds.
Children in grades 3-5 built similar models called Mindstorms LEGO robots, which came to life at the end of the night to compete in one final “Bot Battle” competition. The children worked in groups of three as they enthusiastically watched their creations come to life.
“The project teaches them creative problem solving,” Building Kidz Coach Kaitlin Fitzpatrick said. According to Fitzpatrick, it’s a good lesson for kids to be able to go home and tell their parents, “I didn't get it to work the first time, but it worked when I tried again.”
“I think the greatest thing is seeing the kids get immediate gratitude because they get to see their project move within the hour and are always proud of themselves after,” Spring said.
Wednesday afternoon’s events will consist of the initiation of the 2014 Livingston Color War as well as the LACD Program at the West Essex YMCA. In celebration of Livingston’s Youth Appreciation Week, the Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities (LACD) partnered with the West Essex YMCA to host a two-hour program for children with special needs. Wednesday, children are invited to a wiffle ball clinic at the YMCA, which will be followed by a balloon artist and music clinic free of charge.
“A class like this gives kids with disabilities or different abilities the skills they need to join in playing with other kids in the neighborhood,” Marnie McNany, mother of 12-year-old Mary McNany, said of the event. “It’s a chance to form relationships while broadening their interests.”
Events like this will continue throughout the week, giving Livingston children of all ages and genders an equal chance to participate. The week is run by volunteers and is primarily about offering fun and creative family-friendly events.