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Our History

Leonardo's Basement is an innovative educational organization for children and their families. We create imaginative learning environments where girls and boys ages 6 to 16 design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science and technology. We provide exciting building experiences for over 600 children a year and introduce our programs to thousands more at neighborhood and community events.

View a short and entertaining video of children and adults building.

In 1998 a dozen elementary-age students at a Minneapolis Public School, Barton Open, asked parents to organize an after school club for hands-on learning. The girls and boys articulated that they wanted to work and play with peers who shared their interests in active learning. They craved an opportunity to choose and direct their own projects, create and build solutions to problems, go on field trips and to do so in a spirit of play and fun. They wanted activities they could best describe as "not like school." One year later some of the parents organized Leonardo's Basement as a tax-exempt, non-profit educational organization to provide after school and summer classes for more children.

The name Leonardo's Basement purposefully invokes the spirit of our intent. Leonardo daVinci remains the best representation of a curious and observing mind relating the disciplines of art, science, and technology. We also mean to convey that we are about discovery and experimentation and the informal atmosphere and creative work associated with heading down into the basement to tinker. Supervised, but kid directed, our projects give enormous discretion and power to children.

Leonardo's Basement provides stimulating environments by providing workspace, tools, interesting materials, knowledgeable facilitators, and the freedom to discover and invent. Whether in our workshop, at schools, community centers or in churches, we set the stage for student achievement, with students themselves determining the process and products from which they may learn and succeed. We value process over product and expect that children will make many mistakes but forge on with enthusiasm.

We recognize that all children have different skills and experiences. We also recognize that each child has individual strengths. Many of our children are active, kinesthetic learners. Howard Gardner describes these children in his book Creating Minds. He writes that: "Individuals who ultimately make creative breakthroughs tend from their earliest days to be explorers, innovators, tinkerers. Never satisfied to follow the pack, they can usually be found experimenting in their chosen métier, and elsewhere as well... Often this adventurousness is interpreted as insubordination, though the more fortunate tinkerers receive from teachers or peers some encouragement for their experimentation."

We are influenced by a history of education psychology and philosophy that includes John Dewey (active learning), Jean Piaget (constructivism), and Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences). We believe that children should understand their learning strengths and employ them to develop skills and knowledge about their world.

Mission and Goals    Leonardo's Basement provides innovative learning environments for children aged 6-16 and their families to learn about themselves and their world designing and building creative projects mixing art and science with technology.

Our goals are to:

  • design programs for children who are active, kinesthetic learners and builders;
  • actively involve youth from groups often underrepresented in technical and science-related programs, specifically girls (goal, 40%), children of color (30%), and those from economically disadvantaged families (25%);
  • educate families through hands-on activities and other learning opportunities.

Programs    Projects and programs for kids at Leonardo's Basement grow from a simple belief that they are excellent judges of their own desires and need to learn. All of our programs have grown from children's interests and demands. The community-building program has grown from a need to offer our unique learning experiences to families, the desire of children to build and work in the real world with like-minded adults and our goal of helping parents to better understand the interests and needs of their children.

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By the way, the dozen kids who inspired the program are now doing very well in high school and college. Three of them teach summer classes!    top