If you're looking to combine fun with education, summer computer camps for kids can give your child both a head start in the world of technology and a summer full of awesome memories.
Computers in the Summer?
At first it may seem a little counter-intuitive - summertime is when traditionally kids go outside and play active, physical games, or sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows, or go for long nature hikes. Computer classes, on the other hand, are associated with sitting in sterile classrooms, everyone staring at a computer screen, isolated in the air-conditioned flourescent lighting.
However, enterprising summer camp theme planners have realized that a lot of kids like computers and summer camps, and have found some innovative ways to combine the two.
The Alternating Method
Some camps simply alternate activities - spending some time outside doing the usual summer camp games and then coming inside to a computer lab for hands-on instruction and activities. This can be a very good idea in areas where the weather gets too hot during the day - saving the outdoor activities for the relatively cool morning and late afternoon, and spending the hottest time in an air-conditioned classroom. However, a lot depends on what kind of computer class is being taught. If the counselor just lets the kids "hang out" on the computers, they are likely to get very bored, do inappropriate things online, and not learn anything. On the other hand, if the counselor tries to teach a class just like school, the kids are likely to feel even worse - after all, this is supposed to be a vacation from that kind of work, isn't it?
Another method of teaching at summer computer camps for kids is to focus on a project. For example, at the University of Wisconsin, the Technology & the Arts summer day camp program has classes on things like "producing a music video." Kids spent time outside learning and creating their own choreography, finding locations, going on "video scavenger hunts", sampling sounds from nature, and many other outdoor activities. Next, they are brought into the computer lab to learn how to create original music, shoot a video, and edit it on the computer to create a DVD. Aside from the very concrete computer skills, this kind of a program also fosters creativity, team building, and problem solving while giving the kids something uniquely cool to bring home at the end of the camp.
What Summer Computer Camps for Kids Are Best?
Many colleges besides UW-Madison run summer camp programs, so the first place to check would be your local university's outreach program. iD Tech is a company that partners with universities to run one and two-week intensives for kids from 7-17. However, these are usually day camps and only run a week or two. For more comprehensive and immersive experiences, you can try places like the Digital Media Academy, which offers the "overnight camp experience" at multiple locations in the U.S. and Canada (again, partnering with universities). Planet Bravo is limited to California but is another good example of combining the fun of summer with the joy of tech. You can also simply approach the traditional summer camp counselors and ask about adding a computer theme to the program. One concern, especially in more outdoor locations, is the availability and durability of equipment; computer classes may not be possible at many summer camps.
Create Your Own
Many parents have taken to creating their own summer camp themes for their kids and their neighbors, and there are plenty of lesson plans and activity guides online to help do that. The place to look is in the online homeschooling community, such as MotherBoardBooks, and then tailor the activities to fit the interest and abilities of your own child. This is a lot of work, but can be immensely rewarding and can give your child an invaluable customized summer experience.
Whatever version of summer you choose with your child, remember that summer vacation is for having fun! Focus on that, and the learning will happen by itself.