Activities to introduce kids to the wonderful world of science and engineering
There’s a new type of after-school activity in Doha, one that will entertain your kids, stimulate their curiosity and teach them about the way their world works. Over the past year, several educational companies have set up shop in Doha, each bringing a unique way of introducing kids to science.
Rhonda Normore-Howard, an educator with a specialty in creating science programmes for kids says, “With science, it’s important to grab kids’ interest while they are still young.”
“A lot of kids have no personal exposure to people working in science and engineering, and it can seem intimidating when they get to the higher grades. If they develop an interest when they’re younger, if they think science is interesting and fun, they have so many more options later on.”
I visited four of these companies to find out who they are, what they offer and how they can keep science and technology interesting, relevant and fun for Doha kids.
Science Made Fun
Science Made Fun travels to the kids, whether they are at school, special events, shopping malls or the weekly brunch at the Ritz Carlton. During my conversation with administrative manager Amina Khanum.
I was struck by the sheer number of programmes that they provide. Though the Doha franchise has only been open since March 2014, Science Made Fun started 20 years ago in the United States and has built up an extensive list of programmes. In Doha, Science Made Fun teaches perennial favourites like the science behind bubbles, weather and dry ice, as well as subjects that are particularly relevant in the Middle East like geology, electricity and fossils.
“Qatar has so many natural resources, minerals and solar energy for instance, and we need people to develop the technologies that will make the most of these resources. This begins with children being active in science and developing their natural curiosity,” says Khanum.
While they have a solid foundation in serious scientific principles, Science Made Fun makes the concepts relevant and interesting to kids. Biology is taught as “Globs, Goo and Guts,” a hands-on look at the different parts that make up living things; and “Kitchen Science” allows children to experience the science that is in their everyday world.
The majority of the Science Made Fun programmes are conducted as once-a-week after-school activities; they are currently in over a dozen schools. Mini-workshops are held often at different locations around Doha and Science Made Fun also runs camps during school holidays.
What is it: Fun, age-appropriate, and hands-on science programmes
Ages: Science Made Fun has programmes for children ages 4 to 14.
Where are classes held: First check with Science Made Fun to see if they offer a programme in your child’s school. Mini-workshops and camps are held often around Doha and the latest information is available through their Facebook page.
The Mad Science headquarters in Qatar is near Salwa Road at D-Ring. However, their location is not really relevant. Although they do hold some camps and events at their offices, Mad Science spends most of its time going to the children.
I met with mad scientists Annabelle Olivo and Arjay Daquiz, who spent eight years with Mad Science Dubai before coming to Doha.
“We started a year ago going into two schools, one ofthem in Al Khor. The reception was very good and by the end of the year we were running extracurricular programmes in about 15 schools,” says Olivo, who manages the Doha franchise in addition to her mad scientist responsibilities.
“There was really nothing like it when we started. But Doha is a small community and word travels fast. We’ve had a lot of support from the parents here.”
Mad Science offers once-a-week programmes at several Doha schools and they do in-class workshops for many others. During the holidays, they run theme camps in their offices and at other locations around Doha.
Programmes cover age-appropriate concepts in chemistry, physical sciences, outer space, electronics and robotics. Each class has a hands-on experiment for the kids to try—for instance in the chemistry programme, kids make their own goo, put together molecule models with marshmallows and toothpicks and practice measuring liquids with their own graduated cylinder and pipette.
What is it: Age-appropriate science experiments in a variety of different topic areas
Ages: There is a specific programme for little ones aged 3 to 5. Children from 6 to 12 take part in age-appropriate versions of the main programmes.
Where are classes held: First, check with Mad Science to see if they hold an extracurricular programme in your child’s school.
If not, Mad Science workshops and events take place all overDoha, as well as camps during holiday breaks.
The Little Engineer
The Little Engineer opened in December 2013 on Al Waab Street across from Villaggio Mall. The location is central and easy to find, which is important since the classes are primarily held there. The workshops are brightly decorated and meticulously organised and the children in each room were deeply focused on their models.
The founder of the Little Engineer is a mechanical engineer in Lebanon who noticed that parents have a negative view of technology. For a more positive technological experience, she created a programme that is part mechanics (building moveable models using Lego) and part robotics (programming the models to move).
I met with manager Karen Slim who also worked for the Little Engineer in Lebanon. She noted that the programme works because of the instructors who guide the children. “We choose people who are funny and can connect with the child,” she says. “We want the kids to learn skills like critical thinking and perseverance, but we want them to learn while they are having fun.”
For younger children, the programmes focus on basic building principles like balance and symmetry. As they become more advanced, the programming aspect of robotics becomes more important. Kids are given “missions” for their robots to complete on large tabletop maps. For older kids, the Little Engineer holds Sumobot competitions where kids make their own bots to battle it out.
What is it: Model building and robotics programme
Ages: Children aged 6 to 9 begin with “Pay As You Go” basic kits to let them try out the programme. They then move into Robotics 0A and 0B. Children aged 10 to 18 do Robotics 1 and 2, and levels 3 and 4 will be launched in Doha as kids progress through
Where are classes held: The Little Engineer is on the corner of Al Waab and Aspire Park Road, opposite Villaggio. The class schedule is very flexible: families choose their own times, which makes it easy to fit the Little Engineer into a busy schedule.
SmartIt has two locations in Doha, one in Gharafa and the other in West Bay. I visited the West Bay location and was ushered into a set of bright and spacious rooms by owner Assel Zhantassova and manager Ashley Reilly. Lego is on display everywhere: basic figures and elaborate models, big soft bricks and Duplo and boxes and boxes of educational kits. If you liked Lego as a kid, the impulse to start building is almost irrepressible.
SmartIt is a Doha company that began with Assel’s husband Max, who has always been a Lego enthusiast. Their three children have inherited their father’s love of building, and Assel and Max thought other kids might also like to build while they learn. They opened their doors in February 2014 and were shocked by how fast the concept has caught on.
SmartIt uses the educational line of Lego that progresses from Duplo activities for ages three and four, all the way up to complex robotics for kids in their middle school years. The classes run after school and weekends at both locations with each class concentrating on a different concept of mechanics like balance and stability. At the end of every class, the children are given free time to build and explore.
For older children, the classes cover more complex building concepts and robotics. Once they have built their models, children learn basic programming. Introductory robots are connected via USB to a laptop, but the more complicated robots have motors and chips that allow them to move freely.
Classes are offered once or twice a week at various times. Note that SmartIt strictly limits class sizes to ensure each child gets individual attention.
What is it: Lego building and robotics
Ages: SmartIt offers programmes for kids ages 3 to 12.
Where are classes held: Classes in West Bay are held in the Al Jazi Gardens compound on Al Istiqlal Street. Classes in Gharafa are held in the Al Jazi Village compound in association with SFQ Sports Academy.