New beginnings at the Leusden Dojo

Martijn is the champion of the Leusden Dojo

Earlier this month, my colleague Sonja and I caught up with Leusden Dojo champion, Martijn. We learned about how the Leusden Dojo is resuming face-to-face sessions, and the adaptations and opportunities related to this transition.

A sense of community

Martijn is the champion of the Leusden Dojo in the Netherlands, which started running in October of last year. Despite being a relatively new Dojo, there is a very strong community spirit among its members. This sense of community was key to the club’s resilience throughout the lockdown. Although they were unable to host their sessions online for practical reasons — some of the volunteers are doctors — Martijn shared that “we were in touch with the volunteers on a weekly basis, just to check in on how they were”.

The sense of community within the Dojo is also reflected in the wider community, with all of the volunteers living nearby. Being able to stay in touch during the lockdown really helped Martijn and the other volunteers to feel part of a team.

“We all live in the same neighbourhood; the CoderDojo is linked to a neighbourhood community that we founded two years ago. It’s a young community and we all live nearby — when I go shopping I often see one of the volunteers, which is really nice. So we see them in person as well. This makes it easy to build up a personal relationship, and just to see how everyone is doing […] The CoderDojo is really a part of this neighbourhood community.”

 

The return to in-person sessions

In recent weeks, the Leusden Dojo has been able to safely resume in-person sessions, in accordance with local guidelines. When gauging the reactions of Dojo members, Martijn said, “The kids were very enthusiastic, of course, because they just wanted to come back again. Nobody was very hesitant. We started about three or four weeks after the schools went back again.”

Ahead of resuming their sessions, Martijn and the other volunteers spoke with the managers of the venue and with the local municipality. They then made a set of rules and communicated these rules to parents in advance. Martijn said, “A lot of parents were at ease when they saw these rules because they were the same rules as when you go to a restaurant or a cinema […] it was really no problem.” They also made an information flyer and poster for the space, which they attached to any emails to Dojo members.

The safety information flyer

At the moment, the Dojo is limited to ten children. Younger Ninjas can mingle, but people over twelve must maintain social distancing. Everyone must register online in advance and register again upon arrival. They must wash their hands when they enter the space, and clean their desk. There is also a questionnaire upon arrival about how each person is feeling, whether they have any symptoms, etc. “We just followed the general rules and everyone is used to it.”

Staying in touch with the venue

The Leusden Dojo takes place within a community centre, and fortunately, they were able to resume their sessions there without difficulty. This was in part thanks to the community spirit that Martijn told us about earlier. There are schools, a crèche, and other facilities within the community centre, including a restaurant that remained open for takeaway during the lockdown — they “kept an eye on the building”. Martijn’s supermarket is also just across the street, so he would pop by: “Everything was closed, but just by walking by and asking how [the people managing the venue] are, we stayed in touch. We get along on a personal basis quite well, so I would also text them.” 

As the restrictions started to ease, Martijn broached the subject of resuming Dojo sessions with the managers of the venue. They worked together on how to make it a possibility. Martijn shared, “I got in touch with the municipality to see what would be possible with the building, and that helped them also to reopen other areas of the building.”

New adjustments and opportunities

Once the Leusden Dojo resumed their in-person sessions, it naturally took some time to navigate the new adjustments. The young people found social distancing a challenge, particularly as the Dojo has an ‘ask three then me’ approach in place for when Ninjas need help. 

However, there was one fun opportunity that arose from the restrictions. A fellow CoderDojo Netherlands volunteer suggested to Martijn over CoderDojo Global Slack that they try ‘beaming’ the Ninjas’ screens onto a bigger screen. Following this advice, they set up a Jitsi meeting in which all of the participants shared their screen, which was in turn projected onto the screen in the venue.

“It was so much fun because they really liked it, seeing their screen on the big screen, and it allowed us to safely help them. Although some of [the Ninjas] are shy, one of the roles that we play is to reassure them, giving them self-confidence and showing them that it’s OK if you don’t do something perfectly right away. And this is something that we’re really going to keep on doing.” What’s more, the group always does show-and-tell, and they can now use the screen for that too. “It’s really easy and it’s fun.”

 

We’d like to say a big thank you to Martijn for speaking with us and sharing his experience of the Leusden Dojo’s return to in-person sessions. As he has shown us, community is at the heart of the CoderDojo movement, particularly during challenging times.

“I’m really touched by this community, the community aspect of people organising the Dojos […] all the people doing this on a voluntary basis, having fun and willing to share their experiences is really amazing. For me, it’s a great community to be part of.”

Explore the options for resuming your CoderDojo sessions:

Please follow the appropriate public health advice for your country / region / venue before planning in-person club sessions. 

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