Envision Robotics is a new business launching in Thornhill and their focus is after-school and weekend programs for kids interested in learning about robots and coding. Envision Robotics also offer summer camps, school PA day camps, and birthday parties. Courses follow the principles of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and prior experience is not needed as kids progress through a series of classes. We sat down with the owner John Mackinnon, longtime Thornhill resident to find out more about this innovative project.

Where does the name Envision Robotics come from?

I was inspired by my three kids: Jack (8 yrs), Matt (6) and Maddy (6). What they’re learning in school feels so much more advanced compared to what I learned at their age. I know I am not the only parent that feels like the demands on our children to secure placement at top colleges, universities, and eventually employment is rising each year. So, this got me thinking. What mix of skills and knowledge will they need as young professionals and what can I do today to provide them with a better foundation?

I decided there was an opportunity for me to take a more active role and help them and others. So, I started Envision Robotics where our mission is simple – we help kids develop 21st century skills to be better prepared for a future full of endless possibilities.

Why robotics? Why now? Why Thornhill?

Robotics felt like a natural avenue to help build 21st century skills. Today’s programable robots offer advanced capabilities, are readily assessible, and are excellent learning platforms to teach STEM skills. Further, with robotics, learning feels less of a chore and is a fun and creative way for kids to express
themselves and achieve new challenges.

Why now? Well, while traditional computer coding had been around for a few years the use of robotic platforms to teach STEM skills is still in its infancy. There are only a few places in the GTA which use robotics as a platform. So, we’re looking to shape this industry over coming years by brining new ideas and techniques.

I chose Thornhill to start as I live here and I know the community well. Besides, Thornhill ranks quite high in the GTA as a community with progressive schools, diverse population and a strong workforce which will help in ensuring we attract the right kids to our programs.

What is robotics and why is it so important in today’s world 

In Canada and around the World there is a fundamental shift underway towards “digitization” and using artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced technologies to transform businesses across all industries. On a consumer level, home automation, wearable tech, and programable robots are transforming how we play and spend out time. Robotics in one form or another is everywhere and not going away.

As referenced earlier, the skills that kids will need to succeed professionally in the future are changing as a result. Teaching kids to develop skills in robotics and coding is an important way of preparing our kids to develop these 21st century skills. In addition to the hard skills such as robotic concepts and coding, we also focus on the soft skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Both hard and soft skills are developed through our curriculum.

What are the benefits of children constructing robots and learning simple coding at an early

Constructing robots and coding, even at an early age, helps kids work through a challenge, evolve problem solving and thinking, improve communication by expressing what they need help with and collaboration by showing others how they did something. Completing a challenge successfully builds confidence and helps kids develop a positive relationship with technology.

Between the ages of 7-13 children usually decide if they are interested in a career in the STEM field. One of the most important things a parent can do for his children is to teach them the special skills for such a career and help them make the decision early. This can lead to making a difference between a high-paid profession and a mediocre income for the kids.

What kind of programs do you currently offer?

Our regular kids programs are after school and weekend, and, we also offer summer camps and day camps to accommodate school PA days

Summer Camps:

 Summer Explorer I (6-8 yrs): Students use robotic platforms such as Dash & Dot, WeDo 2.0, and Sphero to compete a number of fun challenges. Kids learn about motors, sensors, and learn to program using a visual drag & drop software.
 Summer Explorer II (9-11 yrs): Students get hands-on experience with Lego Mindstorm EV3, a more advanced robotic platforms while still working through real-work challenges.

Check out our website for early registration discounts. Enroll now to reserve your spot!

Regular Classes:

 Adventurer I (6-8 yrs): introduction to STEM, robotics, and coding by programming robots on Dash & Dot and Lego platforms.
 Adventurer II (9-11 yrs): STEM-focused robotics program where students learn more complex coding, mechanics, and concepts to achieve real world problems. Lego platforms are used.
 Innovator (12-15): More advanced STEM-focused program where students learn engineering concepts and learn to program on a variety of platforms including VEX, Arduino, and others.

Lastly, we also offer a “Drop-In” program where kids are able to come in an “tinker” with our robotic platforms and get creative.

Are there programs for adults?

Yes. We recognize the need to help parents too so we are going to encourage parents to attend a free adult session to help them understand our course curriculum and the basics of robotics so they can assist their kids as they progress through the program courses. Second, we are also going to offer a paid-program for adults on Home Automation, which is very practical given the advancements and availability of these technologies.

What do you envision (pun-intended) for the future of Envision Robotics?

We’re aiming to be the “go-to” place in the Thornhill and Markham region to build robotic and coding skills in addition to the softer skills I referenced earlier. From there we’ll see but I am aiming to open additional facilities over time to help more kids.

Any new projects or offers in the future?

Yes. When we launch in a few weeks we will be hosting drop-ins for parents and kids to visit our facility and get more familiar with our programs. We’ll have fun and interesting challenges for kids to try in our lobby so drop-in to find out more.

What do you enjoy most about living and working in Thornhill?

Jocelyn and I have lived in Thornhill for 10 years and raised our kids, Jack (8), Matt (6), and Maddy (6) here. We love the community for its diversity, abundance of great restaurants, parks, and extra- curricular activities for kids.

Any secret spots and tips you can share in Thornhill?

German Mills Settlers Park is a real gem with history dating back to the early 1800s. We enjoy the park throughout the year and one of our favorite times is when the salmon swim up the river to spawn every fall. Our kids get really excited navigating and racing around the river to spot the next salmon. It’s quite special to experience something like this in an urban area.

Envision Robotics:  2300 John Street, #20, Thornhill, ON  L3T 6G7

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