About a year ago we announced: “We are launching VIVITA Junior program in March where we welcome families with 5–8 y old children.”
The attendees of VIVITA Junior club know that we meet with them on the first Saturday of each month.
Due to the restrictions laid out by the pandemic it was quite challenging to keep up with that promise, but we tried our best.
The aim of the VIVITA Junior program is to introduce VIVITA’s activities and philosophy primarily for the younger sisters and brothers of our members but also to other young inventive 5–8 year olds. It is an easy route to membership as the young inventors will already know the place and people when they reach the age of becoming members in VIVITA. The Junior Programme is run by Mari-Liis Peets, VIVITA’s STEAM activities producer. For her the beginning of 2021 marks two different anniversaries — 1 year of running the VIVITA Junior program and 1 year of working with VIVITA family. Mari-Liis is passionate about education, more specifically STEAM-education and everything about robotics. Luckily she is willing to share her passion with youngsters at VIVITA.
So how does one inspire 5–8 year olds about STEAM?
Every workshop begins with a playful theory session, where together with Mari-Liis, the children discover the answers to the questions of “what” and “how” around the workshop topics. Mari-Liis is fascinated by how curious attentive the children are. “I like their pure minds and natural curiosity”, said Mari-Liis. After looking and listening, the kids continue with some hands-on activity, that sparks their cognitive and creative abilities. The age of 5–8 is a perfect time to learn about real world things and gain practical skills through experimentation.
VIVITA Junior programme was kickstarted by a workshop titled “How does rain get into clouds?” During the workshop we found out the answer to this question but also discussed how clouds form and what a water cycle is and how it works. The hands-on activity of the first workshop’s was facilitated by 11-year-old VIVITA member Karolin.
Regretfully, after the first workshop we had to put the Junior programme on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions for a while, but could finally meet again with the bright-eyed and -minded kids in June.
We had a chat with Mari-Liis, who is also the mentor at VIVITA, and asked how she selects the workshop topics for the kids.
Overall, I always choose something from STEAM-skills and try to have a variety of topics to make the preparation for myself and content for kids more diverse and compelling. It is also important that I myself am curious about the topic and I can engage with it, otherwise it becomes hard to passionately pass on the knowledge to the children. I put a lot of effort into making the experiments catchy, interesting and visually fascinating. I hope that these workshops help children become more curious about life and the world around us.
During the summer months we met with juniors twice.
In the workshop “Operation — saving the astronaut Egg” we built a space capsule for a raw egg to help it land without breaking. All the participants tested their capsules’ durability by dropping them down from VIVITA’s 2nd floor balcony. Before building and dropping the space capsules we discussed on what laws of physics to keep in mind while building the capsule.
Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics — all STEAM-education components. How do you prepare your experiments — do you try to simplify them for the children or do you like to challenge them?
Yes and no. Moderate effort is always good and I try to find the balance between complex and simple. I work hard on making the theory easier, to be clear — making it more intelligible. I choose the vocabulary and terms prudently. Kids can’t remember complicated terms and I have decided to use down-to-earth vocabulary. From experience I have learnt that there is also a time-limit for their focus — they really cannot listen to more than 20 minutes in a row. That’s the reason why we have more focus on the hands-on activities and experiments.
The second Junior workshop in summer took place on a glorious August morning. We met up in the courtyards of Telliskivi Creative City, where kids could make giant soap bubbles. Before the fun with blowing bubbles started, we mixed together the perfect giant bubbles liquid and discussed how bubbles are formed and what the science behind that is.
The new season at VIVISTOP Telliskivi started along with Junior program in September. In September we focussed on mathematics and robotics. Juniors learned about geometry by drawing various shapes on a huge canvas with robot balls.
In November we conducted a workshop themed “Wintering birds in Estonia”. For this we invited a guest lecturer, a well-known zoologist Aleksei Turovski to talk about birds and their habits in winter. When kids knew all the tips and tricks, it was time to take out the drills, nails and hammers to build a birdhouse for wintering birds.
All the children had also a chance to participate in a digital drawing competition organised by the Estonian Ornithology Association. The topic of the competition was the Bird of the Year 2020 — the great crested grebe.
And a few weeks after the workshop we got some exciting news from the competition organisers — VIVITA Junior programme participant 5-year old Albert had been awarded the 1st prize for his drawing.
In December, January and February we arranged virtual workshops. We prepared workshop kits that the families could take home a few days prior to the workshop. The virtual workshops were arranged in form of a zoom call, starting with theory and then followed by an experiment. It was a pleasure to see that kids are equally happy to participate in a workshop also remotely, but keeping their attention on a task was far more challenging than in face-to-face workshops. During the virtual workshops we learned how tornados form and created one ourselves inside a plastic bottle, we extracted DNA from our cheek cells and created a battery out of lemons.
After the year of planning and organising the workshops, we asked Mari-Liis, what surprises her in the children’s ability to learn?
I’m immensely surprised in every workshop. So far, all the experiments have been doable but often prior to the workshop I am a bit scared that the activity is perhaps too complex. I have learned that I sometimes underestimate our little inventors. We sometimes forget to let them play and experiment, but in Junior workshops kids have this opportunity. To be honest, I’m mostly surprised of children’ limitless mind and ability to try and experiment without fears or doubts — the younger they are, the less limits they have. As we grow older, we tend to set boundaries by ourselves and hence start hesitating more.
In conclusion, we have to believe in the abilities of children, because that makes them believe in themselves. We just have to hope that they keep that mindset as grow up.
Stay tuned not to miss out on our next Junior workshop!
The organiser of VIVITA Junior program: Mari-Liis Peets
Text: Steveli Säde
Photos: VIVITA Estonia