School may be out in the summer but the break is actually a great time for kids to increase their knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) thanks to an abundance of local programs.
The city has partnered with three local companies: Bricks 4 Kidz, Play-Well TEKnologies, and Engineering for Kids to offer engineering summer camps for kids aged 4–10. They all have the same goal of exposing kids to STEM at an early age.
According to Brad Albert, the Recreation Manager for Santa Monica, the city’s programs are about “planting seeds.”
“We’re exposing young people to STEM in the hopes that if they choose, down the road maybe, something they’d like to pursue in higher education or as a career,” he said.
Albert isn’t alone in his thinking. According to data from a 2017 study by the New American Economy Research Fund, there is 1 unemployed STEM worker for every 13 unfilled STEM jobs. While STEM education is becoming a standard part of more school curriculums, relying on school means keeping kids engaged only during the school year.
However, Santa Monica’s kids can also experience engineering over the summer without even realizing they’re learning.
Autumn Moss Penaloza, owner of the Bricks 4 Kidz, Santa Monica/Pacific Palisades franchise, explains the logic behind the LEGOs used in their program.
“Legos are such a perfect medium to teach a lot of this principle the kids because it’s something that they love playing with anyways. Let’s say when they’re building, for example, the jetski, they might learn a little bit about propulsion and buoyancy systems [in a] very simple treatment of those topics,” she said.
Bricks 4 Kidz will offer four sets of classes over four different weeks that help kids learn with LEGOs using themes like “Galaxy Far Away” and “Superhero Academy.”
The other LEGO engineering instructor is from Play-Well TEKnologies.
Michael Luong, the Los Angeles Area Manager for Play-Well TEKnologies, said: “All kids are natural engineers, and really it’s about providing them an outlet to do that. Lego is a great tool that teaches kids at things fall apart and things, fail and things don’t work the first time, but that’s totally okay [because] that’s where learning comes from.” Play-Well will offer a “Girl Powered Engineering” for girls aged five to seven.
Older students can apply for the paid Climate Corps Apprenticeship program offered by Climate Action Santa Monica.
The program is open to High School and college students who want to work on sustainability awareness in the community and the program has an emphasis on ongoing learning experiences.
Organizer Chris Gutieriez said the program includes work with established educational institutions and individual special projects that cater to specific interests.
“We want the kids to understand this isn’t just a summer internship/job, ad-hoc, it is an actual capacity building work to deepen their understanding of sustainability and the climate,” she said.
She said the competitive program has utilizes educated students for a variety of outreach projects that teaches them both the science and the skills to communicate it to the public.
Applications are due by Friday, June 9 and are available online at https://climateactionsantamonica.org.
The third summer engineering camp provider, Engineering for Kids has taken a different approach to teaching.
Stephanie Shum, Director of Marketing, and franchise co-owner of Engineering for Kids- Beach Cities Los Angeles said their curriculum teaches kids how to think like engineers with what’s called the “engineering design process.”
“It’s a six-step process that engineers use to solve problems. you start off by asking yourself a question, then you brainstorm some possibilities. You design, build, and then test and improve,” said Shum. The company will offer one camp this summer, “Camp Kelvin: Engineering the Great Outdoors”, for kids aged four to six. Camp Kelvin will teach kids how to apply engineering to a specific real-world scenario. Shun explains: “They’re going camping, they need to engineer things that they’re going to need on this camping trip. How are you going to find food if you didn’t already bring food? In that case, we’ll probably explore how fishing poles work, how they’re designed. You need to make shade? How are you going to do that?’ That sort of thing.”
Camp registration is open now online through the city’s virtual summer catalog, https://www.santamonica.gov/recscape or by calling the Community Classes office at (310) 458-2239.
The Climate Corps Apprenticeship actually pay students but the other courses cost money. To help parents offset the cost of engineering camps, the city offers full financial aid for qualifying residents.