by Ellen Warren
Computer camps across the country are keeping up with today’s tech-savvy youth by offering new courses that challenge the imagination with creativity and professional-grade software.
Moving beyond basic computing skills, in day and overnight camps, kids can learn how to design and program video games, film and edit digital movies, add 3D Flash animation to their websites and create digital comic books.
Nine-year old Aaron Moriak of Newark, DE knows why parents and kids alike love computer camps: “It’s really fun, and you learn a lot of stuff.”
Staying One Step Ahead
New computer-based classes are developed as quickly as kids request them, and camps work hard to stay one step ahead of the campers.
Tina Krinsky of The Julian Krinsky Group says, “Our programs are really driven by what kids want. We do a lot surveys, and since we’re rich with 52 colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area, we can find excellent college-level instructors for just about anything children want.”
Krinsky says that she’s seen a lot of change in the 31 years that Julian Krinsky has been offering summer camps and programs. “Game programming is very popular now,” says Krinsky, “so we offer it along with other computer classes in our programs for high school students at Haverford College and for middle school students at Cabrini College.”
In both day and residential camp programs, Krinsky’s students can take up to four daily computer classes or mix them with other classes such as conversational Chinese, Yogalaties, fashion design or CIA spy training.
College campus facilities are popular venues for computer camps. For 10 years iD Tech Camps has run its program at Villanova University and 50 other colleges in the U.S. and abroad for children ages 7-17.
The camps, which meet all 300 American Camp Association accreditation standards, offer small class sizes with individual computers and the opportunity to work with cutting-edge software such as Final Cut Pro, After Effects and Dreamweaver.
iD Tech’s vice president of marketing, Karen Thurm Safron, says that one of the company’s goals is to get more girls involved in its camps, which give children new ways to express their creativity. Safron says that, as in the technology industry, girls typically represent about 20 percent of their campers.
One of iD Tech’s most popular residential programs at Villanova is the 2-week iD Gaming Academy, where students can choose Game Modeling with Maya, Game Programming, or Camp Fatal1ty, which features a curriculum developed by the world’s best-known professional gamer, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel. A favorite evening activity is competing in gaming tournaments with other iD Tech campers around the country. Says Safron, “The beauty of it is that children don’t even know they’re learning.”
Classes, But Camp Too
On the wooded campus of Penn State Abington in Abington, PA, hundreds of students such as 12-year old Frank Sock return each summer for the popular Kids College camp programs. Frank finds something new in the computer classes every year. Last summer he learned to create computer games, which he says was “a cool experience because we got to play the game we made.” He also learned programming code and how to use Adobe Photoshop. “It was fun, too, because the other kids were really nice and it was easy to make friends there,” he says.
Frank’s mother, Kathy Sock, doesn’t mind her son spending summertime days at the computer. “Frank is very interested in computer games and he’s very creative,” says Sock. “These classes hold his interest, the facilities are clean, the counselors are excellent and they go outside to take breaks during the day.”
Deanna Bosley, youth programs coordinator for Kids College, says that the instructors work hard to make the programs feel like a camp experience, instead of school, by balancing class time with outdoor activities.
She agrees that computer gaming classes are “incredibly popular” right now, and will be offered again this year along with a variety of new classes in multimedia design.
Not Just Computers
At a variety of suburban Phila-delphia locations and throughout Del-a-ware, Computertots and Computer Explorers offer classes such as Rockets to Robots, Video Game Animation, and Clay Animation for campers ages 3-14.
Computer Explorers partners with area schools and township recreation departments to place computer camps in convenient locations, says Alan Oppenheimer, who has operated the program in southeastern Pennsylvania for 18 years. He believes that great instructors, all state-certified teachers, are part of the reason his camps are so popular.
Roni Deely, who owns and operates Computer Explorers in Delaware, adds, “Our summer camps connect technology with language arts, science, math and art. The foundational skills children learn rapidly lead to higher-level thinking and advanced knowledge as they explore and develop new ideas.”
Learning New Skills
Monica Moriak says that her son, Aaron, definitely picked up new computer skills in his Computer Explorers Robotics class, and also became a better problem-solver. “He learned to see ahead of a problem, and to work as a team to plan a solution,” says Moriak.
Aarron Borkowski, age 11, who teamed up with Aaron Moriak on some hands-on robotics projects in camp, has taken Computer Explorers classes for the past four summers and plans to return again in 2008. He likes that the classes “get harder” every year, so there’s always something new to learn.
Younger children, including 7-year-old Brendan Moriak, start out with the basics, such as where to place your hands on the keyboard, and progress to more advanced skills in classes such as Computer Explorers’ clay animation class. Last summer Brendan enjoyed learning how to make “The Hungry Caterpillar” move, and downloading photographs on a computer.
Even very young children can benefit from as little as an hour a day on the computer. In Voorhees, NJ, children ages 3-12 at A+ Academy day camp have a computer lab as part
of their traditional summer camp program. Barbara Gentile, the owner/director of A+ Academy, says that the youngest campers learn how to manipulate a mouse, create and print projects, and play basic computer games.
Older children learn to create their own web pages and keep online journals. Gentile says, “The children that come to A+ like a balance of indoor and outdoor activities. Computer lab gives them some time in an air-conditioned environment.”
Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association Keystone Section, which serves camps and camp families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.