A few months ago I met someone who said, “Oh, you do LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®? Then you must know Kidizens.” To which I answered, “Kidizens? What is Kidizens?”
Turns out it’s a brick-and-mortar business, just two miles from my home, based on kids building cities out of LEGO®.
I recently had the chance to meet the CEO and program director in person and see the Kidizens headquarters in person, and I got so excited about the vision and what this organization is creating, I knew I had to have them on the podcast.
Here’s what it says at the bottom of the website, thekidizens.com:
“At Kidizens, we are building responsible, future leaders, one brick, one project, one city at a time. Our mission is to cultivate creative, critical, and civically responsible thinking that can be the foundation pillar of future learning in life.”
What is Kidizens?
“An environment in real life,” says Prerana. Kids build cities in LEGO® bricks, and learn about civics, social studies, and real life!
What is the Kidizens origin story?
Duveneck School (a local elementary school in Palo Alto, California, two blocks away from where I grew up — this was my elementary school!) had a 2nd grade teacher who used LEGO to teach some civic units. Prerana took the original program over, expanded it and took it to a new level.
Here’s an example of a scenario that might happen at Kidizens, as described by Prerana: Let’s say a business has been flooded in one of the LEGO cities. A kid might say, “Omigod, I wish I had insurance!” Now the curriculum will expand to include a lesson about insurance. Topics are inspired by “real-life” scenarios, such as these, led by the children.
(Literal) Constructivist Learning
“We used to call it an experiential learning model, but then we embraced the term constructivist, because we just felt it is truly a constructivist model of learning. We feel that the kids are actually constructing their knowledge by experientially living in these LEGO cities.” -Prerana
A Day in the Life of a Kidizen
There are different levels of programs at Kidizens. The Fall program runs for 14 weeks; the Winter/Spring program runs for 18 weeks. Plus there are one-day workshops, a Summer program, and programs that Kidizens runs in schools.
In the flagship program, children come in for a 2 1/2-hour session once a week. And those children may strike “trade deals” with cities built by children that they never actually meet, who attend sessions on other days!
On the first day, when a kid walks in, they see a green swath of “land” that they get assigned to, in a group of 15-20. They get talked through the wants and needs of their city, and some guidance working out their city’s priorities.
Time is split between building, group discussions, presenting proposals, and role play.
The Pitfalls of Project-Based Learning Eliminated
Unlike most project-based learning environments, at Kidizens, there’s an immense sense of ownership. Kids learn the concepts, and they start practicing that knowledge, and then they start participating in the processes a lot more, which is how they grow in confidence.
Fiona shared a story about kids who developed such confidence at Kidizens that they were able to speak up at an actual city council meeting!
Prerana shared another story about a kid who started out afraid of leaving his mother, who is now campaigning at school.
Visions for the Future
Prerana has a dream of replicating the model of Kidizens across multiple locations. The challenge is finding high-caliber teachers, but Prerana believes creative confidence can be cultivated.
Advice for Women
From Fiona: Being brave. Taking advice, but never try and change the way you normally work. “Work in your own way.”
From Prerana: Just follow your passion! Creativity and overall positivity.
About Prerana Vaidya, CEO of Kidizens
Prerana is a business professional with 20+ years of strategic advisory, corporate finance and business development experience, with several years as a consultant for tech companies helping them with marketing, business development and funding. She has founded a non-profit and a for-profit organization, Kidizens, a LEGO®-based civic and economic enrichment program, in the Bay Area.
She serves on the Board of Directors for The School Fund and EnActe. Prior to that, Prerana spent over 7 years in technology Investment Banking at UBS and over 4 years in Business Development at Philips Electronics.
About Fiona Watson, Program Director of Kidizens
Fiona joined Kidizens in March 2015 as the Program Director. She moved to California from England, where she gained her undergraduate degree in math and geography, with additional teaching status, from Bath Spa University. She has spent the past 20 years working in a number of UK schools.
Most recently she was brought in to an under performing school as a Vice Principal to support the school in raising standards. The school successfully achieved this under her leadership. Fiona has also worked for several years for Southampton University; lecturing under graduates and mentoring students.
From Fiona: Fiona and her close friends, who are distributed around the world, have a sort of “world-wide book club.” Each of them will read a book, then send it to the next one with a little note written inside. Then that friend will send the book to the next friend with a note. It keeps them connected in a very sweet way.
From Prerana: Prerana sees white herons when significant things happen in her life, so much so that her friends now associate white herons with her. Do you have something similar in your life?
From Melissa: Ginger for migraines! Recently a master herbalist I know recommended adding some ginger into applesauce when I feel a migraine coming on. Lo and behold, it actually helps! I use 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger with about 1/4 cup of applesauce.
(And Prerana is also a big believer in the amazing properties of ginger, and swears by ginger tea. She grates fresh ginger — unpeeled is fine, “just wash it nicely” — “about 10 gratings worth,” and lets it boil. Then adds tea… or not! With or without milk.)
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