Toronto

Robotics courses offer kids with disabilities a new way to learn

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is helping kids with disabilities engage with math and science in an unforgettable way: building their very own robots, then battling them for robot supremacy.

Program offered at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Two children battle their Lego robots at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC News)

A Toronto hospital is helping kids with disabilities engage with math and science in an unforgettable way: building their very own robots, then battling them for robot supremacy.

"Last week, we learned how to code," said nine-year-old Jes Colico, a participant in the program at at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

"It's fun, and it's teaching me more about computers and robotics."

The program, offered through a collaboration between at Holland Bloorview and FIRST Robotics Canada, uses Lego robotics kits to introduce engineering concepts to kids who might not get the chance otherwise.

"We know how important it is to understand technology in the modern world," said hospital president Julia Hanigsberg.

"And kids with disabilities don't necessarily get the same exposure that typically-developing kids might get in a regular school program."

Benefits beyond education

The program is meant for children up to 14 years old, and uses staff and specially-trained volunteers to make sure kids have all the support they need to be able to participate.

Some of those volunteers come from the hospital's partner, FIRST Robotics Canada.

Executive director Mark Breadner believes the computer programming skills learned by participants to make their robots autonomous are particularly important in today's world — but he sees other benefits, too.

"It gets them to socialize and communicate and show some leadership skills," said Breadner.

Most importantly, though, the kids are having fun — and that gets them interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"We find if we get them interested at a young age, they're more likely to carry on in those type of fields," said Breadner.

Taking control of technology

Hospital researchers are interviewing program participants before and after taking part in the program, to see how it impacts their lives.

Many kids with disabilities rely on technology to get by in their everyday lives, said Holland Bloorview president Hanigsberg.

"How cool is it for them to create technology, not just be the object of it?"

With files from Natalie Nanowski

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