Preparing kids for the future by making STEM subjects fun

Bill Nelson / Courtesy

Co-owner Elise Silva shows students how to code at Engineering For Kids.

Leo and Elise Silva are both the oldest children in large families, so they have always been involved in teaching children. As professionals, Leo Silva went into the automotive industry and Elise Silva became a teacher. So when they were looking to start their own business and discovered Engineering for Kids, it seemed like a perfect match for them, and they opened a franchise in Las Vegas. The STEM learning center offers classes centered on engineering, technology and the skills that modern engineers need to do their jobs, and provides kids “with a place to pursue their interests and make friends with similar interests,” Elise Silva said.

What programs do you offer?

Our project-based classes allow kids to explore how the math and science they learn in school is applied in the real world. We offer summer and holiday camps as well as short classes, after-school, Saturday classes, and during the day for home-schooled students. We also do in-school workshops, and we love having groups of students visit our learning center on field trips. This year, we also started a competitive robotics team.

Engineering For Kids

• Address: 6530 S. Buffalo Drive, Suite 115, Las Vegas

• Phone: 702-602-6357

• Website:

• Hours of operation: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday

• Owned/operated by: Leo and Elise Silva

• In business since: 2016

Our most popular offering is our Engineering Club, in which students build hands-on projects in order to explore scientific concepts and learn how engineers in different fields contribute to the world. For example, in the environmental engineering unit, students learn about the technology engineers have developed to clean up an oil spill. Then they get to improve on these methods, develop their own methods and test them to see how effectively they can contain and clean up a simulated oil spill in class.

Tell us about the curriculum and how it benefits the students.

Our classes encourage students to develop 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and media literacy.

We try to prepare students for the future by introducing real-world, modern concerns as well as future-facing goals. They learn to apply their knowledge to solve problems, and they learn the engineering design process.

Each class focuses on a problem or question that needs solving. We help the students brainstorm in a variety of ways, then we guide them in creating a design to follow in their building process. Most of the class is spent building, testing and improving our designs. Students learn that failure is an important and valuable part of the design process, as it gives us ideas for how to improve. Students also learn that no invention is ever complete; it can always be improved.

We often give students the opportunity to work in groups, and use the engineering design process to stay on the same page with their partners. They practice explaining their ideas and actively listening to others. They get opportunities to practice diplomacy and delegation as they work together to accomplish more than they could have on their own.

Do you have a background in engineering?

Our curriculum is developed by a team of educators and engineers, and we put our skills to use in implementing that curriculum in the community.

Leo’s has always been fascinated by machines and how they work, especially cars. He heads up most of the technology curricula in our program, always seeking new future facing platforms to introduce to our students, such as drones, 3D printing, and various robotic and coding platforms.

I use my education background to train our staff of engineers and college students to engage young students in the subject matter as they help children avoid frustration, while giving them the freedom to struggle. It’s a delicate balance, and we hold training meetings as a company to discuss ways to provide a better learning environment for our students.

How many are on your staff and what talents do they bring to the establishment?

We have 17 employees. Many of our instructors are college students, most of whom are seeking a degree in education or a STEM field. Their passion for what they are learning in school really shows in the way they run their classrooms. Their example teaches the students the value of continuing education.

We have a few on our team who are engineers by trade, who teach for us once or twice a week as a way of passing their passion on to the next generation. They are able to give students real-world examples from their own life experiences, and effortlessly model the problem-solving skills we want the students to learn.

A few of our summer camp instructors are full-time teachers. Our camps are a change of pace for them as they focus on the fun and excitement of learning, and get to teach about subjects they are passionate about that they don’t get to introduce in school, such as coding.

Our inventory manager has a huge job cut out for him, as our classes are very heavy on materials. He does a great job behind the scenes making sure the teachers have what they need to let kids really explore and use their creativity.

What is the best part about doing business in Las Vegas?

We love the diversity of people and their circumstances. We love to get to know people and their stories, and what brought them here.

We enjoy the sunshine and mild winters. We are also grateful for how Las Vegas is very business-friendly.

What challenges or obstacles do you face as a small-business owner?

Our biggest challenge is getting the word to parents and kids about what we offer. From new customers and new employees, we often get the question: “How have I not heard of you before?” We want to change that and let more parents know that we are a place designed for kids and young adults to learn STEM education but still have fun doing it.

What’s the best business advice you’ve received?

Long ago, someone told us to do what we love. Although challenging at times, education is one of the most rewarding fields. We love inspiring kids and helping them realize they can do more than they thought they could. Sometimes, you need to struggle through hard jobs, or things that you don’t love, but as long as they are helping you work toward your dreams, it’s worth struggling through.

This advice has been especially helpful for us as entrepreneurs, since starting a business involves a lot of work behind the scenes and after hours. The reward is in the kids’ faces when they get their project to work, and in their parents’ report when we hear that the student’s engagement at school has increased.