Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley Uses Robots in Programming; Members Freak Out

May 4, 2023

The Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley has been using robots in its programming, and the members love it.

“They know I’m sitting on the computer controlling Chip, but they really believe it’s reacting to their work,” says Mikayla, youth development professional at the Club’s Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse. She’s referring to one of the organization’s two MOVIA Robotics Robot-Assisted Instruction (RAI) Systems that our Club members in kindergarten through second grade have been working with. Mikayla runs the program at the Smilow Club. “They don’t think of me in the moment, they’re just focused on Chip. When they get the answer right, they love it, they freak out.”

Purchased through the generous support of Jonathan and Amanda Wetmore, Friends of Jimmy Miller Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Club Alumni Association, Chip is at home in our Smilow Cub in Ansonia, and Rookie lives in our Raymond P. Lavietes Clubhouse in Shelton.

These robots are an ideal component in helping our young members decrease their anxiety while building social and emotional understanding. For decades top universities have been studying the deep science and evidence for using socially assistive robots to effectively improve social and cognitive skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Even before the pandemic hit, anxiety was becoming more common in children and adolescents, and after two years of COVID, Club staff has clearly seen the escalation among its own membership.

The robots have proven to be ideal instructional peers. Their patient, nonjudgmental, and predictable nature provide a structured environment that allows children to expressively take chances they normally wouldn’t. MOVIA’s RAI system incorporates a range of Evidence Based Practices, including methods from Applied Behavioral Analysis and structured play. In practice, the kids just love playing with them.

The robots’ ability to interact with our younger members in a natural conversation enchants the kids. “As you look at their face and they hear Rookie say their name, it’s fascinating,” says Sherone, Program Director at the Lavietes Club. “One of our kids even introduced Rookie to her father.”

Chip and Rookie are helping the kids with math and literacy and engaging them with movement-based games. They can teach life skills like brushing teeth, cleaning up, days of the week, and even taking a bus or public transportation. It’s a great tool for the Club’s workforce development program as well, which, for kids at this age includes things like greetings and manners, sportsmanship, self-help skills, and following instructions. All of which gives each child a greater chance of reaching their individual potential.

For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley’s programs, visit https://BGC-LNV.org.