Design Innovation 5 day holiday camp at The Keys – Innovate with Empathy

In the day and age where kids are exposed to technology at a very young age , I have tried my very best to keep technology at bay for my kids. They have little smartphone and tablet interactions (I have never own any tablet or Ipad) and I wanted to keep it that way for as long as I can . I do know that kids exposed to cyberspace maybe be more knowledgeable, perhaps smarter but I feel that my kids will definitely catch up during formal schooling.  He maybe the most technology deprived kid as he only touched a laptop during K2 when I sign him up for a coding class with IDA. He was very lost as well intrigued by it both the laptop and the coding software during that class. 

In Primary 1,  there are e-learning modules and a daily online Mathematics challenges as part of the school curriculum. I guess time has come for my boy to embrace some controlled environment of technology.

So for the past 2 schooling terms, he has been using the laptop rather proficiently with little help from me for his school work and e-learning. (back to the point kids are inherently able to pick up and learn things quickly)

And in the name of embracing technology , I am not about to open a floodgate where he plays electronic games etc but meaningful technology-based programme and classes which are outside of school curriculum. Classes for coding  is the craze now , see this Straits Time article. There are many schools and centres offering coding and robotics but The Keys holiday camp for Design Innovation caught my eyes.
There are actually 2 suitable camps for J organised by The Keys for the June school holidays – Design Innovation (6 to 8 years old) and Tech Star Junior (6 to 8 years old). I must admit that the more true-blue coding class would be the Tech Star Junior which uses Scratch software to create animated stories (J and I had a brief introduction when we attend the IDA workshop last year) but I decided that Design Innovation camp would be something more beneficial and engaging for him at this juncture. Besides using the laptop and software, I would like see a mix of “hand-based” activities which is exactly that he got at the end of the camp.

On the first day of the June holidays, J needed to wake up earlier than usual (he attends afternoon session on a normal school term) but I assure him its going to be really fun and his eyes popped up when he saw the LEGO Mindstorms EV3. He was really excited to head to The Keys every morning for the next 4 days of camp too.  The Keys is located at Odeon Towers (central location) which is good as I could drop him earlier before 9am before heading to work. Since the camp ends at 2pm, there is some arrangements needed to be made for full time working parents. I was lucky that a friend of mine has enrolled her girl in the same class and we took turns doing the picking up at 2pm.

 J loved it so much that he actually incessantly requested to return for another week of camp. In fact since Day 2, he has been begging me to extend his camp till the end of week 2 of school holidays! There is indeed another another suitable camp for his age category which is the Tech Star JR which is more coding based using Scratch. Let’s say that mummy need a rest from the out-of-cycle routine and there is still the MEGA big December holidays to fill.

I guess his immense interest stemmed from the fact that this is something that he has never done before and the things with boys and LEGO.  Sorry to generalize but the girls in camp also had as much fun (testimony from my friend’s girl who attended the same camp as J). He kept raving about the breakfast challenges, who did what and who won etc and the capabilities of his and his friends’ EV3.

What I really like about these holiday camps organised by The Keys is the small age gap. Some holiday camps and workshops have age ranges from 7 to 12 years old. Speaking from a mother of a 7 year old (which is the youngest of the range), I feel that it is too wide of a range. What a 10 year old can understand may not be what a 7 year old can understand. Hence, I like that this  camp has a small age gap which is for kids between 6 to 8 years old. The knowledge and level of understanding would not be very different and the kids can discuss and relate to one another more easily.

The other reasons why I chose this over the Tech Star Junior was this camp is not all about technology ie the kids do not “play” with the EV3 thoughout the daily 5 hour camp. It is about problem solving and empathy with the daily breakfast challenges. You might be thinking why empathy. During the camp, they are required to problem solve how Tumanka (a kid from a developing country) goes to school and the kids from the same country take so much effort to go to school. This is where kids in the camp (our city kids) can form more understanding, appreciation and empathy towards children of developing countries and develop their problem solving skills.

If you read the course structure, there are some pretty big jargons throughout the course description which I can’t really explain at my child’s understanding level  – prototyping, innovation, modular design, etc. The instructors were able to bring such abstract concepts  at the kids’ level of understanding in a fun way which really amazes me. Most importantly, some level of empathy as they critically think of ways for improve the livelihood of kids in a developing country and finally build an amusement park for them as a finale to the 5 day camp.

Just to give a flavour of the Design Innovation camp that J just did with The Keys. As it is a drop off programme, the information below are based on the camp course structure , the best J has described his daily on-goings and photos provided by The Keys.

Day 1

The day typically start with a breakfast challenge where kids are divided into teams to tackle the challenge. For the first challenge, the teams are to build the tallest structure using spaghetti. This teaches them creative problem solving and teamwork.


the winning spaghetti tower

Next up, they are introduced to the design challenge topic which will set the tone for the week long camp. They were introduced to Tumanka , a 6 year old kid from a developing country and the challenges she and her friends face when they needed to go to school. They were given problems such as reasons why Tumanka takes a long time to get to school. They were given a big piece of white paper to do mind mapping and present it to the rest of the class. This is where they learn empathy and storyboarding.

J’s team mind map

Finally, the highlight of the day, LEGO! Ok not just any LEGO but the highest end of the LEGO series – LEGO Mindstorms EV3.  By using LEGO WeDo software, the kids are required to build and programme the EV3 to pick the kids from remote villages and bring them to school.


Day 2
For the breakfast challenge, they were tasked to build a very strong bridge for the billy goats to cross in Tumanka’s village with the use of ice cream sticks and duct tapes.
 They further enhanced their individual EV3 capability with more motions and actions by building an automated feeding machine to feed the billy goats – innovation in daily processes.
Day 3

They are given a task to design Tumanka’s school from paper, straws, binderclips and pipe cleaner. From the different materials, the kids will recognise constraints and come up with possible solutions.

They even had a mini field trip to IDA Labs at National Design Centre (a stone’s throw away from The Keys) to understand how people innovate in real life settings.
Last order for the day is to improve of the EV3 capabilities with another design challenge.
Day 4
For breakfast challenge, they built paper planes and the winner will be the one with the longest flight distance. The last order of the day was another design challenge and once again , the kids will do their programming on LEGO WeDo and test it out on their EV3.
Day 5

The last design challenge for the camp was to build an amusement park for Tumanka and her friends which will be later presented and showcased to the parents at the end of the camp. Each kid will do a different park ride.  J chose to make a space-shot , which he proudly shown me how it works.

Other kids designed ferris wheel, carousel, roller coaster as part of the design challenge. J also brought me around showing me his team’s design of the bridge, school and the daily breakfast challenges. 

Amusement park made of EV3


J had so much fun with the camp and his new found friends, here with the course instructor receiving his completion certificate

showing how his spaceshot worked

If you are looking for something different (I know my boy woudn’t want a chinese oral and compo camp) and fun and yet give your child some basic foundations to problem solving skills and some preliminary exposure to coding and programming, this camp has a bit of everything to keep the child busy for 1 week of the school holidays.

There are 2 more weeks for the June holidays to fill so do check out the various camps that The Keys offer for the holidays.

For more information about the various camps, do click here. The below camps are left with limited spots.

  • CSI week of June 20-24th: Very limited spots
  • Silicon Valley 101 week of June 6-June 10th: Limited spots

For information on Design Innovation for your 7 year old, click here.

For those who cant afford the time to bring your child for a 5 day camp  but would like to get a flavour of their design and innovation camps, you can join their weekly parent and child workshop , do check their Facebook page for on-going workshops on Saturday or contact them at + 65 6734 8559 or email them at

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored review. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own. Photos during the drop off camp was mainly provided to me by The Keys.

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