One of Westfield’s newest businesses is unlike any other in town. “Build. Break. Repeat.” is the motto of Buildit Labs, which offers classes and birthday
parties for kids and teens that focus on science, technology and programming
all with a hands-on approach.
Inside the labs at 203 South Avenue East, you will find computers, legos and a variety of robotic parts, among other things. Just last week, owner J.D. Kern launched a Minecraft Night by popular demand, so the new spot is open to suggestions. Kern said they have already become a popular birthday party destination and have recently announced registration for a summer camp.
“We really want to teach kids, but our goal is to do so in a "sneaky" way. We want them to learn without realizing they're learning stuff,” Kern said.
He explained that we live in a digital world and he believes it is important for kids to have a firm grasp of the technology that surrounds them, but through a hands-on approach.
One of the classes Buildit Labs offers is LEGO Robotics that Kern explains as easy to trick kids in to learning.
“They're putting together LEGOs. Every kid loves that,” he said “What they don't see, however, is that we're helping them to build stronger robots through engineering concepts, and they're getting to learn some basic programming skills by programming the built robots with LEGO Education's programming language.”
In addition to LEGO robotics, they also offer more advanced robotics for older kids and computer programming classes, such as Javscript.
Buildit Labs also offers Scratch for younger learners. Scratch was developed by MIT, Kern explained, in order to teach programming through pictures and cartoon characters.
“It teaches very real computer programming concepts, though, that will readily translate into higher level languages when the child is ready for those,” Kern said. “My hope is to turn the kids that come to BuildIt Labs into hackers (the good kind) like me!”
Kern comes from a business background, but explains there has always been a hacker and thinker side to him. He began programming as a pre-teen and describes himself as tech geek. When he was just 12, he disassembled his personal computer just to put it back together.
His 10-year-old son began to show the same tendencies and Kern and his wife would travel over an hour away to bring him to a LEGO robotics class. Soon, Kern’s son and daughter and other friends wanted to start LEGO League team, which Kern coached before their tournament.
“It was a blast, and I knew other kids would enjoy it as well,” he said. “We formed BuildIt Labs to bring that enjoyment - and a surprising amount of learning opportunities - to other kids in the Central Jersey area.”
Right now, Kern and his wife, Molly, own and run Buildit Labs, but they are interested in hiring additional teachers.
The Kern Family lives in Scotch Plains, so they wanted to open a location nearby where they can teach people they know in an area they care about.