Bots 4 Tots – Starting Them Off Early & Right With Robots

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We don’t usually publish contributed pieces, but this particular story on the Chicago Bots 4 Tots program from Alexis Nordling really struck home with us, and we think it will inspire many of our readers as well.

“How many of us taped together robot friends out of cardboard boxes when we were kids, or took some gadget apart to the last screw in the hope that we could rebuild it as a homework/room-cleaning bot? Robots fascinate kids, and let's be honest, they fascinate adults too. But, too often the misconception that robotics is impossibly difficult disables a curious child before they even reach their teens, and the curiosity is never satisfied beyond those box-bots and gutted answering machines.


Let's make a difference! Let's give our kids a robot kit, one that's made specifically for them, give them the help and guidance they'll need, and give them an environment in which they can succeed at their first attempt in robotics! And better yet, let's make it free! Am I crazy, or is this the best idea since sliced breadboard?

The Chicago based Bots 4 Tots program is doing it! That's right, Bots 4 Tots is offering free robot building workshops to kids between the ages of 10-15, held at the Robot City Workshop in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. They are collecting donations from people around the globe who understand the importance of encouraging our children to learn about this fascinating craft, and B4T will be turning every $25.00 donated into a free workshop experience for one child- including the kit, the space, the tools and the guidance! The kids will be putting together an award winning solder-free robot designed specifically for their age group: OWI Robots's Jungle Robot, a voice activated climber/crawler bot who changes personalities almost as quickly as it captures imaginations. This workshop is intended to spark a few cerebral light bulbs, teach the basics of robot sensing and locomotion through applied learning, and maybe make an impression on a handful of young minds along the way. Bots 4 Tots's hope in this exercise is that that the participating child succeeds at his or her first attempt. It will inspire him or her to try more kits, to learn more about electronics, and to eventually start designing and developing on his or her own!

Now more than ever, kids need to see that they can be a part of the technological revolution that they see all around them. The founders of Bots 4 Tots, Don Thacker and Alexis Nordling, have enjoyed volunteering with kids for after-school tutoring for years, but ultimately found that help with homework was the least that they could offer. Don has always been a tinkerer and a taker-aparter, computer programming by the age of six (no joke!) and ready with a pair of alligator clips at all times. He coerced Alexis into soldering her first circuit in 2007, and after much trepidation, she realized "Hey, this is fun!". And indeed it is! The kid in all of us comes out the first time we light our first LED, am I right?

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Don and Alexis came up with the idea for Bots 4 Tots after donating a couple hundred dollars worth of robot toys to charity one Christmas, thinking that they would so much rather be donating robotics kits. When they met Greg Gilla, Owner of Robot City Workshop, it was immediately obvious that two powerful forces had come together for the greater good. With the Bots 4 Tots idea and Greg's resources combined, everything just fell into place! Not only could the threesome help get robotics kits into the hands of kids, they could help the tykes build the kits too! Don, Alexis and Greg will be on hand at each of these workshops, helping decipher those instructions and giving out encouragement like they were encouragement giving robots themselves. But seriously, the point is to make a difference and to inspire these children, not just hand out boxes with the verbal directions of "Figure it out, kid." Encouragement is the key word here; never underestimate the power you have to inspire!

Bots 4 Tots is now accepting donations here: http://www.bots4tots.org/Donate/, and is taking names for the summer workshop sign-up sheet (Chicago area only, currently) here: http://www.bots4tots.org/Sign-Up/. They will be holding their first workshops this summer, and will have as many sessions as donations will allow- with every penny received going toward workshops. The workshops will have no more than five children in each so that each child can get the attention he or she requires to get past those misconceptions and bring that bot to life. Donations of any amount are welcome, of course, but they ask that you donate in $25.00 increments (that is, a workshop for one child) if at all possible. These are our future roboticisits here, people, don't be stingy! 

Making robotics accessible to kids is undeniably one of the most important duties of any adult interested in the craft. We have to pass on the understanding and excitement, now more than ever. By donating to the Bots 4 Tots program, you are sharing your excitement for robotics and electronics or your hopes for a future wherein it is not uncommon to see a child engaged in this hobby. With the growing accessibility of technology for young people we are seeing a declining awareness of what constitutes that technology, and that is a frightening prospect in itself. Let's enable these kids with the knowledge to utilize their creativity; they've already got the curiosity!”

Donate online and learn more about the Bots 4 Tots program at the website: http://www.bots4tots.org!

More to come, including stories and illustrations written by B4T kids about their robot creations, and video/pics of the seminal workshops in action!

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