A popular childhood pastime serves a unique purpose at local kid camps and after-school programs, where the Bricks 4 Kidz program is using LEGO building blocks to teach children principles of math, technology, science and engineering - all while having a bit of fun.

After-school: York's Bricks 4 Kidz co-owner Heather Morris says she started the program along with her husband, Eric Morris, in March 2012 as a part of the York Jewish Community Center's after-school care programs at the York Academy Regional Charter School.

The popularity of the program and the word-of-mouth recommendations of parents soon expanded the program at the JCC and its after-school programs, homeschool enrichment classes, and day camps held at the Providence Presbyterian Church, 1215 Church Road, York.

The Bricks 4 Kidz program is part of a larger national franchise started by a mother, Michelle Cote, in St. Augustine, Fla., in 2008. Cote created the program as a creative science after-school program that quickly took off in her school district. The business model was soon franchised and grew to more than 100 locations across the U.S. and Canada within its first five years.

Exploring: For the kids, Morris says the program provides a way to not only educate, but also to explore and create in a safe environment. The familiar building blocks not only spark the children's creativity, but get them thinking and trying new things and testing the principles of math, science and engineering at an early age.

"They really get to unleash their creativity in the camp," Morris says. "At the same time, they're building on these ideas of physics, technology, math and science, even if they're not exactly aware of that at the time."

Morris says the response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially for younger children. The franchise provides suggested activities and themes for the programs, which are often based on other popular children's games, such as Angry Birds.

Morris and her husband tailor the programs to for their participants, however, based on the feedback and needs of the children in the program, so that the camps are always growing and changing. She says many of the kids participate in several of the camps, or return to the same ones in the after-school programs, and they like to keep the kids interested by refreshing the classes with new material.

"We see some sort of interest, or we may have a great idea, and we can then expand on that on our own," she says. "We tweak it to fit the students we have and to fit our own gifts and talents."

Inspiration: The ideas often come from popular culture, like the hugely popular camp based on the indie video game, Minecraft. Morris says the demand for the camp was so great, more spots were added to accommodate the kids who wanted to participate.

"We're going to be expanding on our Angry Birds camps and CHIMA camps, too," Morris says, based on the popularity of those events.

One of the more prominent events of the Bricks 4 Kidz program in York was the construction of a 3-foot-high, 2-foot-wide menorah out of Legos in November at the York Township campus of the JCC. The Very Lego Chanukah Celebration invited the community to join the participants to build the giant menorah together out of thousands of the building blocks. The engineering of the menorah took planning and modeling to ensure its stability - technological principles that weren't necessarily overt as the children and the community came together to build the design.

Morris says she's looking forward to a new day camp based on comic books that will use Legos to create comic book heroes and focus on popular stories from comic books using building blocks.

"I'm super excited about that one," Morris says. "The kids are going to have a blast."

Morris added Bricks 4 Kidz will be releasing its list of summer camps around the beginning of February. Information on upcoming camps or birthday parties featuring the Bricks 4 Kidz program can be found on their website at www.bricks4kidz.com/york.

- Reach Amy Peiffer at apeiffer@yorkdispatch.com.

Think outside the blocks

Day off camps offer kids a way to stay active and stimulated when school's closed.  All camps are held at from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m at Providence Presbyterian Church, 1215 Church Road, York. Activities are designed for children ages 5 to 13. Upcoming day off camps include "Superhero Academy," where children will create caped crusaders based on comic book heroes, on Friday, Dec. 27, and "CHI Challenge," based on the Lego Legends of CHIMA series, on Monday, Dec. 30.

Visit www.bricks4kidz.com/york for more information or to register for camps.