Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could have fun and learn at the same time? Enter, The Little Engineer. Lisa Travell speaks to manager Karen Slim about Qatar’s newest educational facility with a twist.
My kids love Lego and in a world dominated by electronic gadgetry it’s great to see them create something tangible, rather than spend hours building a virtual world. There are so many benefits to Lego, including stimulating children’s imagination, enhancing their ability to follow instructions, developing planning and fine motor skills, promoting creativity and of course learning the basic aspects of physics and engineering.
So wouldn’t it be a dream come true if there were a place in Qatar where children could go and not only build models, but also learn to programme them to move? The Little Engineer does just that, and its newly opened on Al Waab Street. See… dreams really can come true in Qatar.
Karen Slim is the manager of The Little Engineer, which is well established in Lebanon and growing internationally, with branches in Armenia, Libya and soon to be opening in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. ‘We work with Lego Mindstorms,’ she tells me. ‘However, what’s different from what children do at home is the programming. At home they get creator sets and build them and then it’s done. Here, after building, they start programming. For example, they might build a hungry alligator and then we’ll teach them how to programme it so it will open and close its mouth.’ Even I’m excited by this prospect, so I can just imagine what my kids will say when I tell them.
There are actually two courses on offer: Robotics, where students build and programme robots; and Kids & Teens Go Green, a course on sustainable energy that teaches through hands-on activities. ‘On the renewable energy course we teach students about solar, water and wind energy. I know that schools teach students about electricity but in many cases they just draw diagrams.
‘Here, students build circuits with light bulbs that go on and off, as we believe that for students to memorise things they need to see them and work with them,’ Karen explains. One of the reasons Karen believes that The Little Engineer has been successful to date is the fact that children are educated in a fun manner, which equates to happy kids and happy parents. ‘Children learn presentation skills, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving - all under the umbrella of entertainment, and they have so much fun. Most of the students don’t want to leave here!’ she says.
Before she became a manager, Karen was an instructor in Lebanon so she has seen the benefits of the courses first hand. ‘It’s proven that children don’t read questions properly and this teaches them the importance of that too,’ she states. ‘They have a manual to follow and if they skip one step then the model won’t work, so it’s also about concentration.’ If they get stuck, Karen assures me, there’s always a teacher on hand as the ratio is one instructor to six to eight students.
In many cases children can become so motivated by the courses that they decide to take it further. ‘We teach something that can turn into a career,’ Karen points out. ‘We are aiming the courses at engineers, hence the name, and some students do go into engineering, but even if they don’t want to be engineers they can still develop a talent,’ she says.
In our multicultural society it’s necessary to have the ability to teach in more than one language, too, and The Little Engineer is keen to appeal to all. ‘We are open to every nationality and we speak both Arabic and English. We are also recruiting more staff that speak different languages so that we can reach more children,’ explains Karen. And it’s not just for boys either. ‘We welcome girls and boys; some girls are initially put off, as they think engineering is just for boys, but when they see the models they really love it here.’
The décor is particularly impressive with bright, colourful rooms. There’s a waiting area outside each room with a television showing the students inside, which serves to assure parents, or satisfy those curious to watch their kids at work. Long-term courses are on offer as well as ‘drop-in’ sessions, school visits and ‘scientific’ birthdays, and one-on-one courses are also available for children with special needs.
Karen is obviously enthused to be a part of it. ‘I promote The Little Engineer not just because I’m the manager, but also because I see how much fun students have. I see them laughing and they are so excited to come back the next day.’ Could it be possible that with The Little Engineer now in Doha we may never again hear the words, ‘Mum, I’m bored’? Now that really would be a dream come true.
Robotics classes are for ages 6-9, 9-12, 12-15 and 16+; Kids & Teens Go Green is for 9-12 years. Prices vary depending on age and course selected so visit www.thelittleengineer, or call 4481 3849, for more information.