LIVINGSTON, NJ — During the week designated to honoring Livingston’s youth by designing and sponsoring events that allow kids to connect with the community as well as with each other, children in grades K-5 gathered at the Livingston Community Center to build their own robots. As a part of Livingston’s 20th Anniversary Youth Appreciation Week (YAW), elementary-school kids registered for one of two sessions of Building Kidz Workshops that helped the young engineers connect through LEGO projects.

“What we do promotes teamwork and communication,” Building Kidz Owner Bonnie 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 and 20 children in grades 3-5 participated in the building of WeDo and Mindstorm 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. The groups of children watched their projects come to life at the end of the night as their creations competed in one final “Bot Battle” competition.

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Spring had the idea to help children connect through LEGOs six years ago when her son asked to join a Lego team. She said the greatest thing about this newly annual YAW event is seeing the kids get immediate gratitude because they get to see their project move within the hour and are always proud of themselves as they leave.

“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.”

Livingston’s youth will see the Building Kidz team again on Saturday at the annual Family Festival Day at the Oval from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. The Livingston Robotics Club will host a Junior First Lego League Expo, which will showcase science research projects and LEGO robotics designed by groups of six-to nine-year-olds from more than 30 teams in northern New Jersey.

According to Spring, the “coach-guided, child-driven” robotics projects and research will be presented in front of judges Saturday, who will ask the teams questions and analyze what they learned.

Youth Appreciation Week Chairperson and former HCHY president Alan Karpas and those involved in Youth Appreciation Week’s events encourage the community to join in the many activities yet to come. Some of the events being offered to the community’s youth include Color Wars, Stuff the Bus, Mr. Ray children’s concert, LANCETalks, a Ga-Ga tournament, a visit by a well-known author, and a Movie Under the Stars. The Week will end with the annual Memorial Day Cole Bros. Circus and Memorial Day Parade.

“Kids are all a part of our future and I think it’s very important to reward them and honor them,” Karpas said. “That’s what Youth Appreciation Week is all about.”

Livingston’s Youth Appreciation Week, which was organized by the Healthy Community Healthy Youth Initiative of Livingston, Livingston Youth and Leisure Services, and the West Essex YMCA, will run through Memorial Day. Click HERE for a full list of events.