Wellesley Library hosts robot story time

Photos by James Kinneen. Lava takes a bow while the crowd cheers its performance.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

While it sounds like a “Black Mirror” plot that’s somehow a parable about technology’s role in raising our children, The Wellesley Free Library now has a couple of robots that will read to your kids.

On Thursday, the library held “robot story time,” during which Lava, a programmable NAO robot, helped librarian Quincy Knapp entertain children. Made possible through a generous grant from the Wellesley Free
Library Foundation, NAO robots are autonomous humanoid robots from the French company Aldebaran Robotics. They have a wide variety of uses worldwide, ranging from healthcare to robot soccer.

Knapp read stories about robots and performed songs and dances alongside her artificial companion. For example, in one of the stories, when the main character went to sleep, the robot pretended to go to sleep. The books Knapp read were “Bitty Bot,” “Boy+Bot,” and “Robots Everywhere,” which prompted a little girl in the audience to ask: “why are they always about robots?”

Lava’s dancing was the highlight of story time. During songs like “Open, Shut Them” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Lava would mirror the movements of the kids, opening and shutting his hands and raising his arms in unison with the group.

While some of the parents appeared nervous around Lava, the kids loved it. Two separate children took the opportunity to ask a question about Lava to instead declare: “I love you, Lava.”

But reading is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the robot can do. The educational progress the robot can help kids make goes far beyond reading stories.

The Library offers a variety of classes with the NAO robots, including “Meet the Robots” for children under seven years old, and “Reading Robots” for those who are 3-7 years old.

For those ages eight and up, though, the chance to really work with the robots takes shape.

For those older kids, “Robot Coding Camp” is “a six-week class with extra individual tutoring sessions that offers instruction and guidance through the skills and steps to create a more elaborate program.” “Robot Lab by Appointment,” meanwhile, is a 45-minute one-on-one session to learn Lava’s operating system, Choregraphe.

Learning to code is often viewed as one of the most vital skills young people can have as they transition to the job market, so anything that can teach kids how fun that skill can be is a great thing.

And if kids love Lava as much as they say they do, they should love programming him as well.

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