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Aislinn McManus, left, and Lucy Gates work on a LEGO project last week at Shaftsbury Elementary School. (Peter Crabtree)

SHAFTSBURY -- Kindergarten and first-graders are learning basic engineering and math skills by way of an educational Lego program offered through the Shaftsbury After School Program.

The new co-directors, Jessica Smith and Megan Donkers, said the after school program in general aims to provide Shaftsbury students with fun and educational opportunities outside of the classroom.

According to Donkers, approximately 90 Shaftsbury Elementary students, kindergarten through sixth grade are participating in the program, which is organized in three six-week sessions and one four-week session.

The activities and classes vary from session to session and include everything from science to gardening, to art and music.

The current session, which began on Nov. 11, includes the six-week Lego education program.

Smith said the idea for the program was not necessarily a new one, but new in the sense that this year, it was made available to a younger demographic.

According to Smith, Lego education classes have been utilized in the after school program in past years, but only for older children.

Last year, a Lego robotics program proved to be popular with fourth and fifth-graders.

This year, however, the Lego class is being offered to kindergarten and first-graders twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

Smith said that a structured Lego education class is held on Tuesdays, while a free-play format is offered on Thursdays to encourage creativity and exploration.


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"As part of the whole after school program, we're always looking for different opportunities to get the kids involved in science and technology," Smith said, explaining that the Lego program coincides with the national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education initiative, known as STEM. "So this year, Megan and I thought it would be good to expose the little kids to those concepts, too."

Thanks to a successful fall fundraiser held in October, Smith said she and Donkers were able to purchase five "Simple Machines" Lego kits and one lesson manual for the after school program.

According to Smith, who acts as the primary parent volunteer overseeing each of the 10 children enrolled in the Lego education class, (another parent volunteer oversees the children on Thursdays) two children work together on each kit.

Smith said that each class has a different curriculum or theme. For instance, one class may focus entirely on pulleys, while another class may focus on wheels and axles.

So far, Smith said the children have constructed catapults, miniature go-karts, a merry-go-round, and cranes, just to name a few.

Smith added that three fourth-grade students have been asked to mentor the younger children during particularly challenging projects, as the younger students sometimes have trouble manipulating the Legos.

"It's been so great for the kids, a really cool program," Smith said, explaining that at the beginning of the program, she spoke with the kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gates, about the class and its educational value.

"She agreed that this would definitely alert their curiosity about what's going on around them in the world and she was right," Smith said. "It's been really great to bring in the science and math concepts to the younger grades -- ones that they might not be getting in the regular classroom -- in a fun and hands-on way, so that they can understand basic, simple machine concepts and apply them to things they see in the real world."

Smith said that overall, the experience has been a positive one.

"The kids are just so excited when their parents come to pick them up every Tuesday. They can't wait to show them that they've created something," Smith said. "Our goal is to continue with this program and if the kids continue to enjoy it, we will try to raise money to buy more kits in the future."

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.