Kids Get It Together at TNCS Lego Camp!

This week at The New Century School, elementary-age summer campers have been locked in . . . or, rather, they have been locking in LEGO® bricks at Bricks4Kids Camp! This enterprise provides hands-on, multi-sensory classes for kids to play and build with LEGOs®. While they immerse themselves in imaginative creation, they also learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fundamentals by working with models created by engineers and architects.

TNCS’s LEGO camp is run by Michele Rigatuso, who is not only the camp instructor but also a big fan.”I couldn’t be happier doing this camp,” she said. “I love hanging out with kids and teaching them, but working with LEGOs allows me to take a step back and let them learn by exploring.” She explained that the kids are learning with everything they are doing—architecture as they build, math as they count pieces and pegs for accurate placement, engineering as they introduce function to a structure.

“Technic” bricks bring even another layer of complexity. This line by LEGO allows kids to create more advanced models (such as with movable parts, motors, wheels, gears, pins, and axles) and even machines in addition manipulating the traditional interconnecting plastic LEGO bricks.


Technic bricks.

Ms. Rigatuso was assisted by her 11-year-old son, who has been a LEGO aficionado since the age of 4. “I’ve watched his skills with math and science increase. His ability to focus has also greatly improved. You’ll see that the kids go into this world and just latch on.”

Each 3-hour camp session has a specific theme. At TNCS, these include:

  • Pocket Brick Monsters: Get ready for an adventure in the world of Pokémon®! Capture wild Pokémon® creatures and train them for battle. Improve your accuracy and power as you learn new moves and use special abilities. Tap into your inner engineer as we build Dratini, Pikachu, Poké Balls, and more. Bring your own Pokémon® trading cards if you wish to play and trade at the end of each day. Show off your skills as you battle for power in your journey through the Pokémon® universe. Do you have what it takes to become a Pokémon® Master?
  • Mining and Crafting 1: Experience the world of Minecraft with LEGO® bricks in this fun summer camp! Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine. At night, monsters come out, so make sure to build a shelter before that happens. Kids will start by crafting their shelters and some of the mobs, critters, and tools using LEGO® bricks then face new crafting key elements from the popular Minecraft game.
  • Space Adventures: Inspired by NASA and Star Wars™, our Space Adventures Camp is packed full of models that will make your imagination blast off! Each day, campers will learn about real-life space exploration and build models related to the NASA space program. In addition, the day includes LEGO Star Wars™ themed models, video games, group games, challenges and more. Bricks 4 Kidz Space Adventure camp provides the spark for imagination and creativity to take off on an adventure that’s out of this world!
  • Jurassic Brick Land: Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Put on your hiking boots and camouflage…you’re about to enter Jurassic Brick Land! Campers will build a world that comes to life with gentle Brontosaurus, ferocious Velociraptor, terrifying T. Rex, and more. We’ll learn about amazing dinosaurs that lived during the Jurassic period and other extinct, prehistoric animals that roamed the earth and swam the seas during that era and millions of years later. Show us your building skills using our specialized project kits! Come learn, build and play at Jurassic Brick Land camp!

Each session additionally is structured as a set of five stations that teams of four—Team Steve, Team Pig, Team TNT, and Team Creeper—rotate through: building models with standard bricks, building models with technic bricks, free build with standard bricks, making take-home designs with perler beads and paper folding, and iPad game time (e.g., Minecraft—see why that’s actually an added educational bonus here!).

No matter what a child’s skill level is, he or she can always find something to build and be proud of at LEGO camp!

Excitement and Creativity Build at TNCS Lego Camp!

Play Well!

Chretien Mayes, aerospace engineer and Play-Well TEKnologies instructor.

Chretien Mayes, aerospace engineer and Play-Well TEKnologies instructor.

“We teach kids engineering using Legos,” said The New Century School‘s Lego summer camp leader Chretien Mayes simply and succinctly. Mr. Mayes, an aerospace engineer, and co-camp leader Chris Miller, an industrial engineer, are on loan to TNCS from Play-Well TEKnologies, the company that designed these “LEGO-inspired engineering classes for kids K–8.” Play-Well is made up of instructors who are by and large either engineers or scientists of various stripes. “The beauty is,” says Mr. Mayes, “each instructor brings his or her own particular flair and expertise to each camp.”

Now in 23 states, Play-Well has built quite a following from their establishment in California in 1997. TNCS, however, has the proud distinction of being the first Baltimore school to host a Play-Well Lego camp, and Mr. Mayes says that’s not surprising because of the particular TNCS resources, the staff, and the students. “The New Century School has a philosophy and a culture of being hands-on with kids in small classes. That’s us, too—we can provide individual, personalized time with each kid. Basically, we can foster whatever each child is into. Some kids like to build buildings; some prefer to make things go.”

Everything Is Awesome!

Mr. Miller hands out Lego people to each child who can correctly answer a question about engineering, such as "What is Lego glue"? (Answer: Overlapping.)

Mr. Miller hands out Lego people to each child who can correctly answer a question about engineering, such as “What is Lego glue”? (Answer: Overlapping.)

Instructors are there to teach basic principles of engineering and physics and then to turn the kids loose to follow whatever interlocking whims they choose. The instructors weave in and out among groups of builders, answering the questions that spring up all over like geysers. A frustrated, “Why isn’t this working?”  is met with a patient but no less technical answer, and the child is encouraged to try again, applying the new information to her whirligig—but not before proudly demonstrating her “wiggly tooth.”

Transmissions are a fundamental “building block” in engineering and get a lot of play at Lego camp. They start with a simple pull-back transmission (think of the toy cars that you pull back, hold, and then let fly) and progress from there to gear transmissions and all of the different things that can be done with those. Three or more gears touching makes a “gear train,” which can ultimately produce anything from cars to spinning tops to gondolas.”Overlapping” is another principle and also what the camp instructors teach the kids is like “glue for Legos”—stability and strength are derived from the shared surface area of overlapping bricks. With that concept entrenched, they can design houses, construct bridges, etc. An important point is that no fancy or specific kits are required here, and this is largely so that kids can replicate what they have learned at home. A common complaint about Legos in general among parents is that once their kids put a kit together, they no longer seem to know what to do with the individual pieces or are unwilling to “think outside the box.” “Our thing is,” said Mr. Mayes, “is that we focus on the basics, and then kids can go anywhere from there.” Starting with a simple gear, for example, kids might end up with anything from a monster truck to a ski lift. “Once we get to the level of gear train, you can do this, you can do that—you can do anything you want with it,” Mr. Mayes says he tells kids.

Everything Is Cool When You’re Part of a Team!

Thus, Lego camp boosts kids’ confidence, their creativity, and, importantly, their ability to collaborate. We always aim for individual or group projects that we can mesh together at the end,” says Mr. Mayes. The collaborative project for this camp was a vast, interconnected arch bridge. “Every kid made one and then we put them side by side, covered them with bricks to link them together, and put a road on top. It was probably 5- or 6-feet long by the time we were done,” said Mr. Mayes. “And then the kids sent all of their cars across.” Imagine the sense of accomplishment—not to mention sheer fun—that must have engendered! “And hopefully, the idea is, that we’ll create some future engineers!” said Mr. Mayes.

How well does Play-Well play at TNCS? “I’ve been to other schools that I can tell don’t invest in technology or that ‘outside-the-box’ education,” said Mr. Mayes. “At The New Century School, the kids get all that. In addition, the staff and program directors are so on top of it, here. It’s a really great school.”

Finally, the burning question: What did a Play-Well TEKnologies aerospace engineer think of the Lego movie? “Awesome. If I could miniaturize myself, I wouldn’t mind playing a character in it!” said Mr. Mayes. Pretty convincingly, as a matter of fact!