Great article about the benefits of an early education program!

Doing the Math

Young set is the target for franchisors who believe in early start

BY MARIA DIMENGO

Before kids can grow up to be healthcare franchisors, first they have to be educated. Enter a rich mix of franchises that foster science, technology, engineering and math—and fill gaps in the U.S. school system. 

Bricks 4 Kids
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At Brickz 4 Kids, students learn about spin ratios and other engineering basics while playing with LEGO pieces. “Kids don’t know they’re learning when they’re playing,” one exec says.

School districts are failing in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Math and science budgets are getting slashed in Idaho and Oklahoma. Students throughout the United States continue to fall behind other countries in test scores, graduation rates and career-readiness skills.

Enter the youth educational franchise where subjects like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are celebrated. Here, parents are eager to enroll their kids in supplemental programs so they can better compete for jobs that demand critical thinking skills and analytical problem-solving.

As researchers stress the importance of starting early, many franchises like FasTracKids have created learning models that start at the preschool level. This means more and more parents are opting to supplement their child’s classroom education with summer camps, academic enrichment and career-readiness programs.

Many of today’s franchises have programs based on Common Core State Standards, guidelines that seek to ensure kids are prepared for entry-level jobs, college courses and workforce training. Others have developed effective programming for specific age groups (such as 6 months to 15 years), or time slots that meet the needs of working parents and families on the go.

“Those early years—0 to 8—are critical, fundamental years,” said Nancy Faunce, president and CEO of FasTracKids International, a franchise born in 1998. “We have definitely seen an interest in science, technology and math subjects.”

The business is based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, with locations all around the world. Faunce said her first 15 franchises were operating in six different countries when she first started, so it had always been part of her initial vision for the franchise. It costs about $33,500 for basic franchise fees in the U.S.

Others are replicating her international success. Three years ago, Amir Asor, CEO and founder of e2 Young Engineers, a franchise system in Israel, was selected Entrepreneur of the Year by Youth Business International. The company opened its U.S. headquarters in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and began efforts to open locations in Oakland County.

Still, the franchise with a focus on physics will have to compete mightily with Bricks 4 Kidz. A children’s activity program using popular LEGO bricks, it was first developed in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2008 by Creative Learning Corp.

Part of the reason a concept using building blocks earned accolades is because the program incorporates gears, robotics and motors, too. “Bricks 4 Kidz is such a standout because of the LEGO bricks. Kids don’t know they’re learning when they’re playing,” said Monica Mylet, marketing director for Creative Learning Corp.

Franchisees who buy into the Bricks 4 Kidz program, at around $30,000 to $35,000 in franchise fees, receive proprietary learning models developed by architects and engineers. So in addition to the basics, kids are learning how to build faster and stronger propellers and learning about spin ratios, of all things. As Mylet explains, “It drives them mentally without them even knowing it.”

The fact that today’s kids have fallen behind in STEM learning has no doubt driven the increase in children’s franchise opportunities. According to test scores collected in 2011 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 60 percent of fourth-graders and 66 percent of eighth-graders were considered “not proficient” in math. A 2009 exam had determined that 40 percent of 12th graders did not meet basic standards of science knowledge.

It doesn’t help that the statistics for young girls are equally disappointing, but a new franchise model called Foodie Kids has a way to make math, science and physics fun. With today’s culinary schools emphasizing it’s cool to be a chef, early learning in the kitchen is also a logical fit for young boys, too. “Twenty-five years ago, kids wouldn’t have given it a second thought,” says Foodie Kids owner Barbara Beery about a career as a cook. “Now they want to be chefs, so we’re seeing that transformation.”

After honing her brand for 25 years, Beery is just beginning to expand the model in California, Illinois and other corners of the U.S. She started a home-based business teaching kids how to cook, and that grew to writing children’s cookbooks, opening a retail store and creating culinary concepts and programs. She decided to build a franchise around it, incorporating science and math concepts with nutrition, cooking temperature, measurements and ratios. “It’s a very old business but a very new franchise,” she said.

Soon, the franchise will be experimenting with gardening and adding an organic farm stand to the mix.

FoodieKids
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Besides looking adorable, students at Foodie Kids learn science and math, too.

Cooking, gardening and brick-building are just three of the many themes that can help advance STEM learning and franchisees know how to make it fun for their young students. Just after the school year was winding down for the summer, we caught up with Maria Weaver, a teacher and assistant director at FasTracKids in Staten Island, New York. Weaver was busy teaching earth science and thinking about summer programming that would soon kick into high gear.

“It’s enticing, exciting,” she said. “It’s not set up like a classroom. The kids are taking things into their own hands, but it doesn’t feel like school because their friends are here.”

FasTracKids franchisee Franco Verdino opened his newest location after finding his other locations near Brooklyn to be a huge success. Weaver works for Verdino and teaches the kids at his other locations, too.

Weaver said she is particularly proud to encourage her students to stand at the front of the classroom using interactive media, or express themselves in ways that are beyond traditional classroom settings. Parents are given the opportunity to sit in on the learning, and partake in the public speaking sessions.

Faunce believes it encourages a special way of learning when you have students and parents in the same room. “We’re not just enrolling the child, we are enrolling the family,” she explains. “We recommend that the franchisees hold a parent class and invite them to come in and participate.”