(BPT) - As students prepare to head back to school this fall, the pressure is on for parents and teachers to find activities that keep kids entertained and productive. One trend that’s picking up steam is robotics.

"Robotics competitions are a great way to not only keep kids engaged after classes end, but to provide invaluable learning above and beyond what they can get in a typical classroom setting,” says Don Bossi, president of FIRST, a STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) advocacy nonprofit. “One of the biggest benefits is that kids get set up to find professional success, but they have a lot of fun while doing it.”

FIRST is a sport for the mind where every kid can go pro, and its students are even recognized with varsity letters in many states. Millions of students have participated in FIRST’s hands-on programs for kids ages 6-18, and alumni report improved problem-solving, time management, conflict resolution and communication skills. There are many more reasons to consider robotics programs for your child, and here are the top five.

1. They’ll learn to be creative and solve problems

Students must navigate restraints, including limited time and resources to meet deadlines and challenge requirements, but they won’t let that stop them. You’ll be amazed to see how each team comes prepared with a different solution to the same problem — including the innovative ways teams design and build their robots.

2. They’ll master teamwork and collaboration

Just like any other team sport, camaraderie is developed in robotics, too. Students work together to solve problems and meet goals. Plus, there’s a role for everyone: team responsibilities range from engineering and coding to fundraising and marketing. By working with others and integrating ideas born from teammates’ diverse backgrounds and schools of thought, students learn the true meaning of collaboration.

3. They’ll find meaningful role models

Educators and parents play a large role in robotics teams, but other STEM professionals are just as crucial. Many teams have relationships with local engineers, computer scientists, marketers and more who lend their expertise and guide students through construction and competition. These relationships often lead to internships, networking opportunities and jobs down the line. Many students pay it forward, too, and mentor their old teams once they graduate.

4. They’ll make friends for life

Robotics is a great way for kids to meet new friends, whether they’re teammates or competitors. Some competitions are international and draw students from upwards of 30 countries, making them great opportunities to expand your students’ worldview.

5. They’ll lay the groundwork for their future career

There’s a shortage of skilled STEM workers in the U.S.: In 2016, 13 STEM jobs were posted for each unemployed worker, a difference of nearly 3 million available positions. No matter which STEM field students aspire to, there’s an opportunity to hone their skills through robotics. Even if a STEM-focused career isn’t where they envision themselves, kids can gain valuable fundraising, marketing and event experience. Most importantly, robotics inspires a lifetime love of learning that is critical to success in an ever-changing workforce.

Robotics provides kids with the technical and interpersonal skills they’ll need to influence the future economy and become well-rounded adults, and it’s never too early to get involved. With high-quality education, mentorship and opportunities, any kid can find a future in STEM.

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