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Little City Offers Variety of Enrichment Opportunities for Kids of All Ages

A CODE NINJAS SENSEI (teacher) is seen here helping students with a stop-motion animation project. (Photo courtesy: Cassidy Olimpo)

As the school year starts soon (Monday, August 22 for Fairfax County and Monday, August 29 for Falls Church City Public Schools), parents will again be looking for further ways to enrich their child’s educational experience while also helping them develop better communication skills with their peers and have fun in the process.

The Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department is currently holding registration for a variety of classes and events for kids during the fall. All classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis; registration deadlines usually fall one week prior to the beginning of a class. Featuring a range of themes, from history to digital 3D modeling to athletics, the Recreation and Parks Department’s classes fit a variety of age groups and interests.

“Little Athletes and Me,” for kids ages 2 — 3 introduces young children and their parents/guardians to sports and team-building activities, with a separate option for kids ages 4 — 6; “Hands-on History,” set on the grounds of historic Cherry Hill Farmhouse, brings kids ages 6 — 12 closer to history, highlighting the life and times of the Blaisdell family.

For kids ages 5 — 9 with an interest in singing and dancing, “Petite Pop Stars” is a dancer-led choreography and showmanship class, engaging students both physically and artistically; for older kids, ages 8 — 14, “Introduction to 3D Modeling” teaches students about computer-aided design software, as well as how to utilize different kinds of modeling methods to create personal avatars and name tags.

Most classes run mid-September to mid-November, during the week and on weekends. For more information about the fee-reduction program for eligible City residents, visit fallschurchva.gov/feereduction. For more information about the Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department, visit fallschurchva.gov/recreation. For kids interested in computers and digital media, there are also many opportunities at Code Ninjas of Falls Church, which has two coding curriculums available all year round.

Cassidy Olimpo, Director of Marketing and Events for Code Ninjas, spoke about their Create Program “built specifically for ages 7 to 14,” which “allows kids to learn how to code by making their own video games.”

“For kids that are new to coding, we start them off in basic block coding and then those skills transfer over into real JavaScript coding. Once they have a foundation of what coding is, we take it to the next level of JavaScript and then help them make their way into 3D animation coding.” Olimpo adds that kids get to learn “how to make the same games they play in the very popular Roblox platform, which is where we encourage them to code in Roblox Studio.”

The JR Program at Code Ninjas “is an all-visual coding program for ages 5 to 7.” The JR Program helps students “build an understanding of how writing code works” and reinforces “their knowledge with numbers, shapes and colors.”

Olimpo explains, “I usually like to tell our JR ninjas that coding is like putting a puzzle together; that without a piece of one code, your puzzle is incomplete. The JR program provides pre-readers a hands-on coding experience by building on their logic, problem-solving and social skills with other ninjas (students) and our Senseis (instructors).”

These programs provide an enriching environment for kids that helps them learn new things — which can be applied later on in school, college and their careers — “without them even noticing they’re learning.”
Pete Baroody, of Baroody Camps in Falls Church, spoke about the variety of programs they have available this fall — “from STEM, sports, science, cooking to chess, art, pottery and drama.” In addition, Baroody Camps also offers a magic class, taught by magician Joe Romano. “He is an amazing magician and instructor,” says Baroody. “The kids love him and his programs. He has been working with us for years and has been a huge part of many school communities.”

There is also Lego Engineering, which has seen Baroody Camps partner with Play-well Technologies, among others, “to provide opportunities to create and code robots with Legos.” These particular programs “keep kids engaged in creative learning opportunities from the start of class to the end.”

Amy Nearman, Director of Dual Enrollment at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), spoke about the school’s dual enrollment program and described it as “an enrichment opportunity that allows high school or home schooled students to earn college credits for courses taken through the college while still being enrolled in high school.”

“High school students typically take a variety of classes including English, history, government, lab sciences and math. We also have great career and technical course options like IT (Information Technology), early childhood, automotive, welding and air conditioning,” which like coding and game design feed into a student’s career goals and opportunities. Nearman clarified that NVCC allows “freshman and sophomores” into dual enrollment, “but they must meet higher criteria and are reviewed individually for readiness.”

Ellen Selby of Creative Cauldron, a non-profit theater here in Falls Church, spoke about their Learning Theater programs which take place in the fall and offer activities for kids in grades K — through age 14.
Learning Theater is “basically…an umbrella term” which includes a variety of programs.

Learning Theater Ensemble, for example, is for kids ages 8 to 14 who work on creating “an original musical from a fairytale/folktale”; Learning Theater Studio Jr, for grades K to 2nd, “is a movement and imagination game-inspired workshop where kids make friends and explore the basics of storytelling through music and games.”

Learning Theater Studio for grades 3 to 5 is a “class [that] introduces kids to the basics of theater with acting challenges and improv games”; Learning Theater Studio for grades 6 to 8 is a class that was set up “to get kids ready for the stage with essential vocal and physical exercises, acting challenges” and it culminates with “a final performances for parents and families.” Selby explains that this studio class is “a great skills class” that is not “as intense as the ensemble.”

LEARNING THEATER makes use of detailed costumes and masks for their productions. (Photo courtesy: Creative Cauldron)

Creative Cauldron also has “a more advanced Musical Theater Workshop for teens” which will result in a “hybrid professional and student Halloween musical” titled ‘Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ written by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, two Creative Cauldron luminaries. Training workshops and rehearsals begin September 6 and will run through October 30th. Students in grades K to 12 are encouraged to audition.

In total, the cast will include five professional adult actors and ten Musical Theater Training Ensemble members.

In terms of the methodology, Selby stated they “take kids’ input” when beginning work on a production, “especially since we have so many returners that some kids really grow up in our program. We’ve also been doing this so long that we now have a good shelf of scripts and scores we can go back to.”

“Basically, we choose a story in the public domain (like Peter Pan and Wendy) or well-known fairy tales (like Cinderella)…the kids’ input really comes in with shaping the story itself. We improvise with them the first few workshops and try to script characters that suit their strengths.”

Last season, Learning Theater put on a presentation of ‘The Adventures of Mr. Toad’ with some intricate costumes. Selby shared “our scenic and costume designer Margie Jervis makes these professional level costumes with her team of volunteers. Parents and kids are welcome to join in the making sessions” as “Margie really collaborates well with the kids’ ideas for their characters, even though it’s her vision that makes the incredible final product.”

“Laura [Connors Hull] and Matt [Connor] really keep raising the bar on what the kids can do as the program grew more and more popular through word of mouth.” Selby said.