While there are many elective classes offered these days to challenge children in school, not many people may be aware of all the educational programs that exist for kids outside of the classroom.
One such program includes an engineering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program offered through Wilton Continuing Education (wiltoncontinuinged.org) in Wilton that enables children to use their imagination to make moving objects with Lego pieces. Children can build projects such as trains, gondolas, arch bridges, skyscrapers, motorized cars, motorcycles, castles, airplanes and monorails.
“Unlike a program where the kids are given a packet to build from, this is more free-form and encourages thinking out of the box. It follows basic engineering principles but children are using more of their imagination and not just building from a kit,” says Emily Dowden, supervisor of children’s programs for Wilton Continuing Education.
Dowden says the program exposes children to STEM and critical thinking at a very young age.
“They learn early on if they want to pursue fields in physics, engineering or architecture,” she explains. The program is offered in eight-week sessions from September to June to children in grades K to 5.
Due to the strong interest girls had in the STEM classes, Dowden formed an all-girls class called “Girl Powered Intro To STEM With Lego.”
“The way boys go about working in these types of classes is very different from girls,” she notes. “Boys want to build it first. They want to test the project and talk about it later whereas girls want to first find out what they are building, learn the whole background behind it including the parts of it as well as why they are building it. That was why I thought of creating an all-girls class.”
Westport-based Connecticut Association for the Gifted (CAG) also offers educational programs to challenge children.
The association, which is nonprofit, offers resources to those who are seeking either schoolwide enrichment, after-school enrichment, or summer enrichment, according to Stephanie Heisler, program coordinator.
Aside from serving as a resource, CAG (ctgifted.org) also hosts a variety of its own programs throughout the school year, such as Minds in Motion, a hands on enrichment workshop that’s offered in communities across Connecticut.
In Minds in Motion, children in grades K to 8 choose from over half-a-dozen different offerings. New workshops are offered every year. The last Minds in Motion event was offered in Milford and was open to children of all abilities. All teachers of the program are experts in their field and volunteer their time.
Previous Minds in Motion workshops include comedy, science, coding, cooking, and engineering, as well as video production, martial arts, immersion and writing, history, and critical thinking.
“There is an activity for virtually any interest,” Heisler says. “It’s a place where, for very little money, you can try something new and different.”
Yet another program where children can pursue their interests and learn where they excel is “Third Saturdays” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (aldrichart.org) in Ridgefield.
Held on the third Saturday of every month, this intergenerational program enables children age 2 through high school to learn alongside their parents. The program, which is ongoing, is free.
The purpose of Third Saturdays is to give families an opportunity to explore art, creativity, a new environment and new ideas together, according to Michelle Friedman, manager of education programs and youth initiatives at the Aldrich. “Both parent and child are encouraged to create their own work or collaborate,” Friedman explains.
All projects are open ended. “They get to run through the project from the original idea through its completion. Artists and educators help them work through it,” she says.
Friedman provides an example of how the program encourages intergenerational learning. “Recently, we were making mobiles and we had a mother and a son working together. The son started to get stuck on bending and connecting the wires and the mother was able to give him some technical help, demonstrating how to actually bend and connect them. A little later on, when the mother started to get stuck on what to do next, the son would give his input,” she explains.
The program attracts approximately 30 to 115 participants each time it meets.
Friedman notes that the projects are designed for any age and ability. “A young child can learn to create and experience materials for the first time, while older kids can really take it to the next step by either diving deep into their idea, experimenting with the materials or really just pushing themselves to do something they have never done before,” she says.
Previous workshops have included “Mixed Media Masterpieces,” where gravity was used to move paint across the canvas and layers of tape was used to create abstract compositions; and “Alphabetical Arrangements,” which involves cutting, writing and making collage letters from magazines, newspapers and stencils to create works of art using text.
With enough research, time and effort, many other opportunities for enrichment can be found for children through parks and recreation departments, YMCAs, museums and learning centers in every town.