Junior Techies: Franchise Offers Kids Programs

GURNEE | Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gurnee-based Computer Tots/Computer Explorers is offering classes to park districts, preschools and day care centers, operating from the belief that all children should have access to quality technology education.

The Gurnee franchise that offers classes all over Lake County and northern Cook County is ranked by the parent company in the top 10 of 100 international franchises, said owner Shaily Verma, who started the local franchise almost two years ago with his wife Ruchi. "This is a company that was started by teachers," said Verma, who holds a PhD in economics and finance and teaches part time at Robert Morris and Columbia Colleges. "Our business is growing so rapidly now that I can only teach part-time evenings and Saturdays and my wife is now teaching full time for our company." While Verma's goal is to bring his franchise up to number one within next five years, money is not his primary reason. "We are doing it for our kids. We have children ages 7 and 10 and from our own experience we are amazed how quickly they learn computer skills when they are taught hands-on. That is why I got into this business. We need to focus on building a strong foundation in technology for our kids, with exposure starting at age 3 or 4." Click to enlarge image Click to enlarge image Computer Tots/Computer Explorers provides educational programs for ages 3 to 13 years old, most recently offering Spybots through the Gurnee Park District, with classes on junior engineering and digital movie making starting later this month. While these classes are for ages nine and up, Verma's teachers conduct classes starting at age 3 years old using simple computer programs to teach the alphabet and counting skills. "Computer Tots is for 3 to 6 years old and we do those classes in schools and day care centers. Our teachers bring the computer and monitor into the classroom and work with groups of up to four children in a half hour class," said Verma. "The instructor might teach for two or three hours at a time depending on the number of children in the class." His staff of 17 teachers also works with Lego educational kits. Those kits are used for Spybots and junior engineering classes. "These kits are not available to the general public. They are only used for educational programs." "Spybots is an introduction to robotics. The students are building a robot using computer instructions. Once they build it they download a secret agent mission onto the spybots built by the students. For example, one mission is a bank robbery and the students use their robots to stop the bank robbery." The computerized robots are controlled by remote control. Often more than one robot is used to solve a mission, explained Verma.

"Over eight to ten weeks the kids build the robots and work through ten different missions that take place in different parts of the world. So they learn geography and about the culture of each country as well as computer skills. In advanced classes the students make up their own missions." "Our engineering classes do not use computers; rather the children learn various concepts of mathematics and physics by doing projects. They build from models. For example, building a crane from Legos will teach them about gears. Then they will build a car and learn about motors. The drawbridge project teaches them about structures and forces." Over the course of the classes students will build 10 different models. "Each will teach them simple physics and mathematics concepts." Digital Movie Creator will instruct students in shooting their own videos and downloading and editing them to make their own personal video.

The hands on classes are so popular that Verma is having a difficult time meeting the demand for them. "We also do these classes during the summers and over holidays so there is demand year round. We are having a tough time meeting the demand right now." Sue McDougle, manager of the Gurnee Park District's youth and early childhood programs says Verma's programs are filling a difficult niche. "It is hard to find programs that appeal to this age group, but these kids are so interested we are filling the classes to capacity. Spybots was popular right off the bat.

This is a new chapter for us with these programs but so far I have only received positive feedback," McDougle said.

Verma's staff members are mostly retired teachers or teachers who only want to work part time. "All our instructors are in some way related to teaching and education. We train and provide all the materials for our instructors. All we ask for when we offer a class are a room, tables and chairs," said Verma. "We take care of the rest."

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12715 Telge Rd.
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