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Westfield's New Buildit Labs Lets Kids ‘Build. Break. Repeat.’

Jill D'Ambrosio

Friday, February 21, 2014 • 1:27pm

WESTFIELD, NJ – On a recent Sunday morning, three young students sat around computers in a sunlit classroom at the new BuildIt Labs at 203 South Avenue East, learning to program an integrated circuit board called an Arduino that would in turn make a motor run.

They were led by teacher J.D. Kern, co-founder and co-owner of BuildIt Labs, an independent venture which opened for classes in January. With a motto of “Build. Break. Repeat,” the lab offers classes and workshops for children of all ages designed to use hands-on projects to teach science and technology while also inspiring imaginations.

“I’m giving them building blocks, and they can do whatever they want with it,” Kern said of the lab’s programs.

As the Arduino students worked, Kern circulated among them, checking their progress and asking questions.

“Let’s see if that bad boy works. Download that sketch for me,” he said to 12 year-old Charlie Williams.

BuildIt Labs also offers courses in Javascript, Lego Mindstorms and Scratch, a visual programming language that gives children in grades two through four an introduction to basic programming concepts. For six to eight year-olds, a class in Lego WeDo Robotics is also in the works for the spring session, which starts on April 12.

The shop, which is housed on the first floor of an unassuming brick office building, is currently open only on weekends and certain Friday and Saturday evenings for the popular Minecraft nights. Kern, however, hopes to hire another teacher to work during the week for its spring session. BuildIt Labs also hosts birthday parties. A three-week camp will be held in July, as well.

Kern, an accountant, opened BuildIt Labs with his wife, Molly, who is a professor at the City University of New York. They have two children and reside in Scotch Plains.

Kern’s love of experimenting with technology goes back to his childhood.

“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” he said.

When he was 11, Kern shocked his parents when he completely dismantled the new computer they bought for him. Although he was able to eventually rebuild the computer, Kern still recalls that he was punished for taking it apart.

The Kerns got the idea for BuildIt after their son became interested in Lego-based robot building several years ago and they discovered the nearest facility for this was over an hour from their home.

 So far, interest in BuildIt Labs has been keen thanks to word of mouth, and the classes are at maximum capacity.

“We keep the classes really small because they require individual attention,” Molly Kern said. “The community is really embracing the idea, and we’re grateful for that.”

Charlie Williams, who attends the Arduino class with his 10 year-old sister, Bridget and lives in Jersey City, enjoys coming to BuildIt Labs.

“It’s something new. It’s really fun to do,” he said.

Charlie and Bridget’s dad, Richard Williams, said he found the lab through a Google search.

“There was nothing in Jersey City,” he said. “I particularly wanted the Arduino class.”

Molly Kern added that the lab offers special workshops in addition to its regular classes. Earlier this month, it held a father-child workshop where kids used circuitry and soldering to create an LED heart in a circuit board for their moms for Valentine’s Day.

For more information call BuildIt Labs at 908-301-6134 or visit www.builditlabs.com

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