FIRST Robotics Canada, supported by various FIRST Robotics Teams, Alumni, and Volunteers, has been instrumental in creating and running engaging hospital programs since 2018. These initiatives have been designed to introduce children to the exciting world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) through hands-on activities and educational kits. The collaboration between FIRST Robotics Canada and hospitals has provided children with disabilities a unique opportunity to learn about STEM in a fun and engaging way, positively impacting their lives.

Hospital: Holland Bloorview Hospital – Toronto

Holland Bloorview recognizes the significance of providing quality-of-life programming for children with disabilities. We collaborate with social scientists, therapists, educators, government and community groups, families, and youth through our Bloorview Research Institute’s Participation & Inclusion theme to develop and evaluate various programs, including life skills and transitions to 

Kids playing with LEGO Robots

adulthood. We understand the underrepresentation of students with disabilities in Advanced Placement courses and the subsequent impact on post-secondary science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and employment. While diversity and inclusion discussions remain prominent, it is crucial to address the underrepresentation of people with disabilities. Although numerous studies are available, many still focus on case studies. At Holland Bloorview, we seized the opportunity to lead in this area six years ago by partnering with FIRST® Robotics Canada to make their experiential Robotics program accessible for kids with disabilities. Our clients come from diverse diagnoses, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Cerebral Palsy, Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, developmental delays, and Acquired Brain Injuries. Children Kids Playing with LEGOaged 6 to 14, registered as outpatients or inpatients, actively participate in the program. The mission of our program is threefold: to introduce and encourage interest in STEM and robotics among children and youth with disabilities. Provide a fun and innovative therapeutic experience that enhances social skills, curiosity, creativity, self-confidence, communication, and teamwork. Lastly, share the adapted FIRST® Robotics program model with other hospitals to reach more children with disabilities where they live, building capacity with interested treatment centers as partners. HB FIRST® Robotics has positively impacted children's critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills, as well as their self-confidence, creativity, and interest in STEM subjects. The program continually evolves, offering new lessons, robot designs, and more challenging coding, with

Boy with his arm upa focus on therapy through play and meaningful participation. In addition to developing interest, skills, and passion for STEM, the program fosters unique interactions between participants, creating a sense of belonging. It holistically promotes the development of social and life skills through initiation, practice, and review, which are transferable to everyday life. Robotics programming provides an opportunity to advance the development of children and youth by breaking down barriers to STEM-based programming through individualized support. Also, it empowers families and caregivers to play an active role in the process.

Holland Bloorview undertook a comprehensive study to comprehend the development and execution of an adapted robotics program tailored for children and youth with disabilities and their experiences throughout the program. The pilot study utilized mixed methods, incorporating pre- and post-workshop surveys, observations, and interviews, and encompassed the participation of 41 individuals, including 18 youth aged 6–13, 12 parents, and 11 key informants. The robotics program spanned six two-hour workshops conducted at a pediatric hospital. Holland Bloorview explored four areas of the FIRST LEGO ®robotics program:
● The experiences of participating for participants and parents;
● How the FIRST LEGO robotics program was adapted to meet the needs of children with disabilities;
● How interested children and parents participating are in science, technology, engineering or math; and
● Whether and how the program promotes play and a fun environment for participants.

Bloorview Research Institute and the Centre for Leadership in Participation and Inclusion funded the above research study. Results: Findings showed that several adaptations to the robotics program helped enhance the participation of
children with disabilities. Adaptations addressed the educational/curriculum, cognitive and learning, physical and social needs of the children. Regarding experiences within
the adapted hospital program, findings highlighted that children enjoyed the program and learned about computer programming and building robots.

Conclusions: Clinicians and educators should consider engaging youth with disabilities in robotics to enhance learning and interest in STEM.
● Implications for Rehabilitation
● Clinicians and educators should consider adapting curriculum content and mode of delivery of LEGO® robotics programs to include youth with disabilities.
● Appropriate staffing, including clinicians and educators knowledgeable about youth with disabilities and LEGO® robotics, is needed.
● Clinicians should consider engaging youth with disabilities in LEGO® to enhance learning and interest in STEM. Holland Bloorview has emerged as a trailblazer, playing a central role in the program’s enduring success and consistently tailoring the FIRST LEGO robotics program to cater to youth with disabilities. Since 2015, the
Holland Bloorview FIRST Robotics program has experienced significant expansion, integrating STEM concepts alongside meaningful engagement and practical skill-building opportunities. Presently, the program encompasses junior, intermediate, and exclusive summer, fall, and winter sessions dedicated to children.

Hospital: One Kids Place – North Bay

One Kids Place – North Bay has been an invaluable partner in the hospital programs conducted by FIRST Robotics Canada. Through the initiatives led by FIRST Team 1305, young minds have been introduced to the wonders of STEM using LEGO Education STEAM park and Discover sets. The hospital’s commitment to empowering its clients through the magic of STEM education has been evident in the success and continuation of the programs. The virtual nature of the programs initially allowed children from remote communities to participate safely, connect socially with peers, and explore their interests in STEM. Thanks to the support of FIRST Robotics Canada and its dedicated volunteers, we can now offer these camps in person.

Image of six people on a virtual zoom call.

Hospital: Strides Toronto

Strides Toronto’s dedication to providing evidence-based interventions for children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been complemented by the adapted FIRST LEGO League Challenge program initiated by FIRST Robotics Canada. The program has utilized Spike Prime Kits to teach essential teamwork skills and has been led by experienced FIRST Canada Alumni. The hospital’s collaboration with FIRST Robotics Canada has expanded this successful initiative to two in-person locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where young participants have benefited from improved negotiation skills and enriched STEM experiences.

Hospital: Ron Joyce Children’s Hospital

Ron Joyce Children’s Hospital, renowned for its exceptional pediatric care and commitment to innovation, has partnered with FIRST Robotics Canada to present the STEM Program. The program, designed to cultivate children’s STEM skills initially through interactive LEGO building activities and then through the curriculum using Spike Prime kits, has fostered a passion for science and technology among young learners. Guided by students from FIRST Robotics Competition teams, participants have engaged in real-world problem-solving, building a strong STEM foundation. The collaborative efforts of Ron Joyce Children’s Hospital and FIRST Robotics Canada have empowered children to explore their potential and prepare for a brighter future in STEM fields.

Image of 15 people on a virtual zoom call.

Hospital: KidAbility (Firefly Therapy Services) in Cambridge came on board and ran
their Firefly Robotics program in October and November 2019. This program
was offered to children ages 6-10 and gave participants the opportunity to:

● Design and build challenge solutions using LEGO® elements and motorized parts
● Apply real-world math and science concepts
● Learn team-building and presentation skills
● Build friendship and make new friends
● Share ideas and talents
● Build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills
● Participants will work with LEGO elements and moving parts to build ideas and concepts and present them for review.

Hospital: ErinOakKids

The partnership between ErinOakKids and FIRST Robotics Canada has been pivotal in promoting STEM education and hands-on learning experiences. Through the dedication of FIRST Robotics Teams, Alumni, and Volunteers, the program has expanded to include WeDo robots, LEGO Steam Park Kits, and Spike Prime kits, creating a dynamic and engaging learning environment for children. The establishment of ErinOaks’ very oprogram participants in wheelchair getting congratulated in a high five line of other studentswn FLL Explore team in 2023 showcases the program’s success in fostering a passion for STEM among young minds. With plans to establish another FLL Explore team at a new location, FIRST Robotics Canada’s unwavering support ensures that more children will benefit from these enriching experiences.

Next Steps

With the unwavering support of FIRST Robotics Teams, Alumni, and Volunteers, the hospital programs created and conducted by FIRST Robotics Canada have profoundly impacted the participating hospitals and the lives of the children involved. These initiatives have opened doors to a brighter future for young learners by nurturing a love for STEM and providing hands-on learning opportunities. The success and continuation of the programs are a testament to the dedication of all stakeholders, working together to shape the next generation of innovators and problem solvers and driving the progress of science and technology in our society.

Total recorded program reach = more than 400 Students 

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) ABA + Robotics Pilot program provided a learning opportunity to students with special education needs interested in LEGO® and robotics. This pilot program will support students with special education needs who present with significant behavioural concerns that may
interfere with collaborative participation in a group setting. While capitalizing on the student’s interest in LEGO® and in Robotics, the focus is to embed Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) strategies to strengthen skills and support their academic
and behavioural development using differentiated instruction.
The HWCDSB ABA + Robotics Pilot Program ran during the school year for two weeks (10 days), for 1 hour daily and as a summer program at the end of August or one week (5 days) for 2 hours daily. The initial pilot program ran with two students, one at each school and met virtually through Microsoft Teams. The summer program ran with 3-4 students at each school site (2 schools participated). The purpose of a small group with a maximum of 4 students is to build up the student’s tolerance to working and sharing materials with one peer partner. Each pair was given a large LEGO® building plate (15″ x15″) to build on and shared one FIRST LEGO® League Explore kit and one WeDo kit.
Learn more about the program and the findings here.

"We know how important it is to understand technology in the modern world, and kids with disabilities don't necessarily get the same exposure that typically-developing kids might get in a regular school program." Julia Hanigsberg, President, Holland Bloorview Hospital

"We have partnered with FIRST Robotics Canada for five sessions, and the outcomes have been nothing short of transformative. Our students, who are on the autism spectrum, often lack opportunities to engage in coding education. The Modified FIRST LEGO League Challenge program fills this gap and provides a unique avenue for our students to learn essential coding skills in an inclusive and supportive environment." Lacsmi Thayaparan, BCBA,  Senior Manager, Autism Services  Strides Toronto

"This program has been wonderful for my son. It really challenged him, but he was so excited when the robot moved." Parent, Ron Joyce Hospital