Kidizens, a Los Altos based LEGO afterschool program recently took its 3rd-5th grade participants on a field trip to Mountain View’s REI to learn about the sporting goods store’s co-op business model and to culminate the month-long business unit children were engaged in during weekly sessions
At Kidizens, students get first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of businesses by creating their own LEGO businesses as well as visiting local businesses. Kidizens CEO, Prerana Vaidaya, leads trips to REI and other local establishments to expose kids to the real-life situations they are learning in class.
During the trip, the children learned that REI was just another startup in someone’s garage in 1938, run by two friends, before it moved up in the world to a shelf at a local gas station, then later to a store with 20 employees. Now it has 150 stores in the US.
“With our co-op model, anyone can become a member/co-owner,” said Katie Lafky REI retail sales manager. “At REI, 70% of the yearly profits go back to our 16 million members, environmental charity organizations and our employee retirement fund.”
Eager questions ranged from what’s REI’s most costly and least expensive items (a $3,000 carbon bike and a 10-cent bag) to its most popular selling items and how they get affected by seasonality (sleeping bags in summer and warm clothing in the winter).
Lafky talked about how inventory gets managed through their extensive IT infrastructure. The time spent learning about delivery, stocking in the warehouse was quite intriguing for the kids.
In response to a question on how REI decides what to sell, Lafky explained how focus groups are conducted and product marketing research gets done.
“We go into the community to, say a biking group. We ask them what they like about us, what they don’t and what products they’d like to see, then we go back and develop or buy items they want. We test the items in one store, if that goes well we will make it available in our other stores.”
“We routinely take children out into the community to reinforce what the children do in their immersive Kidizens LEGO worlds,” says Vaidya. “We have visited local City Halls to see the Mayors in action, Esther’s German Bakery for a pretzel and to understand a family-run business’s journey all the way through and been over to the Sweet Shop to learn about an intriguing non-profit model.”
“We love field trips – this experiential and hands-on learning style allows children to gain in depth knowledge by connecting their own projects to the real world,” says Kidizens teacher Alex Smedile.
For the 5 years in Los Altos, Kidizens has striven to impart real-life, project-based learning, valuable civic and economic lessons, and social and leadership skills to elementary and young middle-schoolers, through a highly collaborative LEGO-based learning environment. The children have launched a variety of their own businesses, ranging from a lemonade stand to a pet store to the next big competitor to Apple, while researching and learning various business-related issues and topics. In addition, they have immersed in serious role-play as city council members, policy makers, investors, and anything that grabs their passion.