Sometimes, Ella Woodside worries about the dogs whose owners take them for walks in the dark, concerned that they could be hit by cars whose drivers can’t see them.
So the 6-year-old Brookeville girl came up with a solution — one that earned her top honors in the Smithsonian-Cricket Media 2014 Global Kids Invention Challenge.
“One of my school lunch ladies told me she walked a black dog and it was killed,” Ella said. “I wanted to invent something so other dogs won’t die.”
Her eco-friendly answer: the Solar Safety Leash, a leash with lights powered by sunlight instead of batteries.
Laura Woodside said her daughter has always had a passion for dogs, even though the family has never owned one. She tried out her invention using a stuffed dog.
Woodside, an educational consultant, learned about the contest and helped Ella and her son Zach, 9, enter.
In researching for the contest, Woodside said they learned that there were leashes with battery-powered lights, but none that were solar powered.
Ella’s aunt is having a house built with solar panels, so the family had previously discussed the benefits of solar energy.
“Solar power is better for the Earth,” Ella said.
Woodside said her daughter has always been a “creative, artsy kid.”
“Ella is always building and creating at her art table,” she said.
Her first-grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary School, James Van Eyk, taught a unit on inventions this year and was very supportive of Ella and her contest entry, Woodside said.
Ella submitted her entry in March and learned she was a winner in May. Out of 539 entries from seven countries, there were only six individual winners, with four team winners.
She was the youngest individual winner.
“When we found out Ella won, she was running and dancing around the house in typical 6-year-old style,” her mother said. “She was very excited to see her picture and invention online. She told everyone that she was famous.”
Ella won a Lego set, a certificate and a set of Smithsonian books.
Although Zach’s entry, Bee Safe, wasn’t a winner, it addressed the important issue of colony collapse disorder.
“In his interpretation of the problem, he invented a box that cleaned the bees as they flew in and out to remove the pesticides, kind of like a car wash for bees,” Woodside said.
The annual challenge, which is open to all kindergartners through 12th-graders internationally, seeks to inspire and empower kids and promote 21st-century entrepreneurial skills.
“In this third annual global Invent It! Challenge, we asked kids to channel their inner-inventors by thinking about a real world problem and coming up with a solution,” Joan Auchter, Cricket Media’s chief learning officer, said in a news release. “We were very impressed with the high quality of the student inventions, such as Ella’s, and the awareness and thought that went into developing them.”
The winning inventions, which can be seen at challenges.epals.com/winners/, focus on safety, quality of life and the environment.
The annual competition will return next year, coinciding with Young Inventors Day in January.
Ella has advice for other kids.
“Kids can be inventors, too, not just grown-ups,” she said. “You just have to come up with something, try to make it, and if it actually works, you invented it.”