Euclid—When 3- and 4-year-olds come into the Fab Lab space at the Early Learning Center in Euclid, they get right to work—thinking, creating and building.
They're doing it in a small workshop better known as the Fab Lab.
It's equipped with high tech machines like 3D printers, computers, robots and more.
- The only STEM preschool Fab Lab in the U.S. exists in Euclid, Ohio
- It's only a year old, but in just a few months, it will be expanded to include kindergarteners
- They're doing it with the help of a $235,000 grant, to prepare kids for future science, technology, engineering and math careers
Early Learning Village Principal Sanya Henley says it's all about preparing these little learners early, for potential careers in STEM fields.
"Students don't realize that they are literally programming a basic computer," said Henley.
Right now, most students don't start learning what these kids are mastering in preschool, until middle school.
Henley believes it's important to give students a leg up.
"We didn't want to do it at the secondary level, like most schools do. We wanted them to come into school with that idea that I can create," said Henley.
But come August, nearly double the number of students—700 that is— will get the chance to do the same in this new building.
"We wanted to make sure that our students got the same opportunity as students that go to more affluent school districts,” said Henley.
That opportunity means using their imagination to make—without limits— while using their hands.
Curriculum Developer Meg Somerville assists teachers with creating lessons.
She says they typically give kids a familiar story like "The Three Little Pigs" and a project to match.
"The kids like build a house out of straw and they build a house out of wood and then they can test it and see how that works," said Somerville.
While it all fits into their curriculum and keeps an emphasis on literacy, they make sure to teach kids the importance of working through a process versus focusing on end results.
"So our students will be given a challenge. They will not be given step-by-step directions and they will create whatever we ask them to create. And then we'll talk about it, review it, reflect on it and then redo it," said Henley.
So for 4-year-old Joshua Hooks, it’s no big deal when it doesn’t turn out the way he anticipated.
"It was kind of like a bee before... well...kind of mixed it up," he said.
Director of Strategic Initiatives Karen Brown believes learning this way while taking risks at an early age is a game changer.
"Learning to make mistakes and take risks and take on challenges then to recover from those and try again —that we think, that kind of growth mindset is something that you hear often in schools, but we're really putting that in practice with the work with the preschool Fab Lab," said Brown.
And practice isn't necessarily what makes perfect, but it’s what keeps 4-year-olds interested.
Keeping an interest and building on that these days is important because out of the 74% of middle school girls interested in STEM fields, less than 1% choose computer science as a major when they go to college, according to Girls Who Code.
But while they're still learning the basics, these kids don't have to worry because they'll be light years ahead of their peers when they get to middle school and beyond.
The $17 million renovation project should be finished in June.
In August, about 700 preschoolers and kindergarteners are expected to fill the Early Learning Village.
Once the school is fully up and running, other districts will be able to bring their students over to the Early Learning Village for field trips as a way to introduce Fab Lab learning to them as well.