Harper Woods launches Lego League team

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published April 18, 2021

 Six-year-old Jaiden Pearson shows his portion of the Harper Woods Lego League Team’s first project, which sought to design a park using Legos.

Six-year-old Jaiden Pearson shows his portion of the Harper Woods Lego League Team’s first project, which sought to design a park using Legos.

Photo provided by Alicia McKay

 Lucas Kotaran, 6, is among the elementary school students taking part in the first Harper Woods Lego League Team.

Lucas Kotaran, 6, is among the elementary school students taking part in the first Harper Woods Lego League Team.

Photo provided by Alicia McKay

HARPER WOODS — Harper Woods children can get creative with a new program aimed at enriching numerous educational and problem-solving skills.

The new program is a Lego League team. Team members ages 6-10 coordinate on a goal, usually involving building something with certain specifications or that will serve a particular purpose.

The team came out of the Harper Woods SOUP program, which awards money for new enterprises that enrich the community. While most winners are local businesses, this time Alicia McKay won for her proposal to start the Lego team.

“The SOUP (program) has been going on for three years now, and a lot of the projects have been awesome projects, but I wanted to create something where students could get some enrichment given the state of everything,” she explained. “It began last October when everything was remote, so enrichment activities were few and far between. I wanted to create something where students who were in Harper Woods could be with kids from their school or on their street. It creates some feeling of normalcy. I had some experience with Lego (League) teams in Detroit, so I applied for a SOUP competition and won.”

Although the program is being done remotely for the time being because of COVID-19, McKay is basing the team out of the No Fear Cafe in Detroit.

“No Fear Cafe existed prior to SOUP,” she said. “It is in Detroit and it provides educational experiences for people from ages 2 to 99. We have activities in the building, projects like Lego League, math enrichment programs, classes for adults. We’re about collaborating with local residents and businesses, so working with SOUP was a good fit for us.”

McKay plans to have the team meet at the cafe once COVID ends. The current season began Jan. 23, and will last until the last Saturday of May.

“Our first meeting was the last week of January,” McKay said. “We meet once a week for an hour. We use Zoom to meet up. This particular team is an intro group, so it’s ages 6-10. It’s noncompetitive. When they turn 11, they can participate in competitions in an older league. Normally there would be a big competition and they would show off what they built. Now they are making videos in which they show off their project and answer questions.”

Several parents of local children involved in the program said how impressed they were with how it engaged their kids.

“I think it was awesome,” remarked Tatiane Kotaran, the mother of 6-year-old team member Lucas Kotaran. “He loves Legos and it gives him the opportunity to learn a lot. It’s not just about playing with Legos. He learns about how to use things in a different way and build something.”

She added that the Lego team provides many opportunities to learn skills and habits that will come in handy in both school and future careers.

“I hope they learn how to work in groups and form partnerships,” she said. “I think it will really help them learn to solve problems.”

Regiane Fante, the mother of 6-year-old Isaac Fante, said the team was a perfect fit for her son.

“As a parent, I think it was a great program for Isaac because he loves putting things together and building things,” said Regiane. “They do a good job getting the kids’ imaginations going and supporting their building skills and lifting them up. … I love the project they are doing, building a playground. It helps encourage being healthy and doing something that helps people. I was very impressed with what they learned and how it worked. It’s a great program to teach kids about getting interested in technology and developing skills and getting them used to using that part of their brain. I think the kids need something like this in Harper Woods.”

Isaac said he loved getting to do something fun that lets him make new things both with a team and on his own.

“I like it because you can build with Legos. You can build anything you want. We’ve been building lots of Lego cars, some buildings, and the park project where kids can be active,” he said. “You can build anything you want to build in the time you can. I would definitely come back and join the team again. It’s really fun.”

For their first project, the kids each created part of a playground and park that would help provide certain activities for a hypothetical community.

“We modified it so it could be done virtually,” McKay explained. “We created a theme of playmakers, so if we were face to face, they would create a model of a playscape area. This year they all came up with parts. They did things like something kids could run through that would tell them how fast they were running, and other things that could only be done virtually. We kept a key part of the Lego group, which was to teach core values, such as having fun, being inclusive, and fostering creativity and teamwork. They would talk online while they were building.”

She went on to say that this is exactly the kind of resource she thinks the Harper Woods community needs for its young people.

“This is an important step for Harper Woods because it lays the foundation for other teams for older age groups,” McKay said. “This builds interest and gathers students together so we can expand as time goes on. At that point they can go to competitions and work on more complex projects.”

She hopes the team can grow and bring in even more students from the area.

“They can sign up at nofearcafe.com/lego. For the Lego League team, because the grant from SOUP was targeted at Harper Woods, the students have to be residents, but now that it is up and running, they can join from anywhere. If we get enough interest, I would love to split the kids up by area so they can still be working with people who are from the same neighborhood or go to the same school so they still have that proximity and community.”