Of all the nerdy activities your child can get involved in, few can hold a candle to the ultimate marriage of problem solving, programming and engineering: robotics. If you want your kids to get an early start in this exciting field, you may want to check out the FIRST programs.
Starting at Kindergarten and continuing thorugh the 12th grade, FIRST is a non profit organization that is devoted to helping kids and young adults discover a passion for science, engineering, technology, and math, all through the design, building, and competition of robots.
Beginning with the Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr FLL), kids work with adult coaches to build a moving LEGO model and create a poster to illustrate their journey of research, teamwork, construction, and imagination. This league is for kids ages six to nine, and lets them discover real-world math, science, and teamwork skills while playing with LEGO bricks.
Once kids hit the fourth grade, however, they can join the FIRST Lego League (FLL), immersing themselves in science and technology challenges, finding solutions to scientific problems or questions, and building and programming autonomous LEGO robots to perform mission-style challenges. The program uses the LEGO Mindstorms software and model building kit, which comes complete with a command module (NXT, soon to be EV3), motors, sensors, and connective parts. Competitions happen locally, regionally, and nationally, making this another alternative or enrichment to sports teams in schools.
When kids get a bit older, from ninth to twelfth grade, they have the option of joining the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) or the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), taking their engineering and technology skills to a whole new level.
Kids and adults can get involved with neighborhood groups, school groups, home school organizations, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, family members, and after school programs. Anyone can start a team, and there are many resources on the FIRST website to find other interested folks, or start your own team.