Laguna kids get first taste of creative lab

Children at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach took recycling to a new level Monday afternoon.

Using everyday items made of plastic, such as bottle caps and laundry detergent container tops, kids created their own robots, or "plastikobots," during the Child Creativity Lab's kickoff workshop.

The Child Creativity Lab is a startup mobile nonprofit designed to stir children's imaginations and strengthen their problem-solving skills.

Founder Peter Chang worked 10 years in business and marketing but changed careers as he raised two children, ages 3 and 5.

"The kids gave me the stimulation to go after something related to them," the Irvine resident said.

Creativity, Chang said, is not limited to artistic disciplines, but extends into other areas — whether it's a professional navigating office politics or a child figuring out how to reach a cookie on the kitchen counter.

"I was taught that you are creative or you are not, but that is not the way it is," Chang said. "If you exercise and work at it, you can increase the ability to be creative."

Creativity is also a quality valued by top executives, Chang learned.

The lab cited a 2010 study by IBM, which interviewed more than 1,500 chief executives from 60 countries and 33 industries. The executives said creativity trumped other leadership qualities such as integrity, influence and openness.

"Learning is not always in school, in a stressful environment," Chang told the group of about 15 elementary school-aged children gathered at the Boys & Girls Club.

Chang invited professional artist Claudio Garzón to help guide the children as they built their robots. Garzón regularly strolls along the Los Angeles River, collecting bottle caps and similar items that otherwise could end up in the ocean.

Environmental stewardship is also crucial to the lab's message, revealing that what some consider throwaways can be made into something beautiful.

The children sketched a design of their robots on paper, then, with help from a few employees from Kohl's who were volunteering at the club that day, glued parts onto the base — half of a plastic egg atop a laundry cap.

Kids could paint their robots and add any accessories. Some used round bottle caps as wheels.

Makena Minailo, 10, used a piece of decorative wrapping paper as a veil, reminiscent of a bride's accessory.

Koveika Nelson, 7, inverted the base so the flat portion was upward and the round part was the bottom.

Chantal Lamourelle, an adjunct human development instructor at Santa Ana College and an educational consultant for the lab, considered Koveika's idea an example of what happens when kids are allowed to think for themselves.

"I would imagine when they see these type of pieces, they will say, 'I can create a robot with that,'" Lamourelle said.

The children also learn a valuable lesson about protecting the environment, Boys & Girls Club art director Emily Murray said.

"I'm happy [Child Creativity Lab] reached out to us," Murray said. "Reusing things is so important for kids to learn about, and to create something with the same things and all be so different."

The lab will have an invitation-only event for artists, community leaders, educators and philanthropists at the Eureka Building in Irvine on March 27 that will teach them about the lab and its mission, with a presentation from Ashley Merryman, co-author of the 2010 Newsweek article, "The Creativity Crisis."

The robots children made at Monday's event will be on display at the gathering.

The lab hopes to open a facility by 2017. In the meantime, Chang will reach out to organizations such as schools, daycare centers and libraries to hold workshops.

The Child Creativity Lab is fiscally sponsored by Charitable Ventures of Orange County, a nonprofit that provides resources and support for charitable organizations.

For more information on the Child Creativity Lab, visit http://www.childcreativitylab.org.

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