How Technology Is Changing Summer Camp

For kids participating in Maker Camp, summer camp is about to get an update: creating robotic birds, chilling with NASA astronauts, and getting dramatically fewer mosquito bites. But some say kids still need time in the summer to unplug.

Created by Maker Media and Google and launched last week, Maker Camp is a six-week, completely online program that guides teens through an array of DIY projects, experiments, and virtual hangouts.

Part of the burgeoning maker movement, the camp is the latest push to encourage kids to delve into STEM and summertime learning willingly, often without even realizing it. The camp kick-started with a soda-bottle boat. The first week’s agenda was a balloon-propelled toy car and a bike-powered phone charger. The camp is part of the growing excitement behind the idea of technology as a gateway to hands-on, self-directed learning.

Each of the six weeks has a theme, and video tutorials take kids through the step-by-step process of creating something new that they can share on live, daily Google+ hangouts. As CNN points out, libraries around the country are also taking part in the camp, providing campers with a public, safe spot to participate in DIY endeavors.

Camp-What-A-Wonder, is similar to Maker Camp but for younger campers. The camp is part of Wonderopolis, a site designed by the National Center for Family Literacy to connect the learning kids do in school, at home, and in their community. Camp-What-A-Wonder also has a weekly theme but suggests activities kids can do with family members such as scavenger hunts and creating stories, which kids can email or upload to the site. Like Maker Camp, it aims to motivate kids to be curious about the world around them and keep learning throughout summer.

Hive Days of Summer also shares the goal of keeping kids busy with “making and connecting” while they’re out of the classroom. If you haven’t heard of it already, Hive Days of Summer is now up and running in the Pittsburgh region, partnering with more than 20 organizations to provide 100 summer learning opportunities for teens.

These camps are just one way the maker movement and technology can help educators and students take learning into their own hands in the off-months. By putting the tools in learners’ hands that allow them to tinker with science, a whole new world of creative learning opens up.

But kids still need a place to unplug. And thankfully traditional summer camps are still providing a place to do just that, as NPR reported. More and more traditional summer camps have banned campers from using electronics altogether to encourage kids to connect with the outdoors and interact face-to-face with other campers.

Instead of making bike-powered phone chargers, kids at places like Camp Sloane in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts stay busy mountain biking, sailing, and fishing.

But there’s something tech-centric camps and the traditional summer recreation spots like Camp Sloane have in common. Both allow kids to learn by trial and error, to get messy and immerse themselves in a project they’re excited about. In the mountains, that might mean building a fire or pitching a tent, while online, camp might focus on programming your own robot. Kids need room for both.

Published July 15, 2013