From Minecraft to Modding, a Summer Tech Camp Explainer for Parents

Summer technology camps are more popular than ever. If you don't know your game modding from your Java coding, here's the 4-1-1. By Caroline Knorr
From Minecraft to Modding, a Summer Tech Camp Explainer for Parents

You’ve probably noticed something new about those summer camp brochures that arrive by the dozens this time of year. Instead of rolling rivers, cabins, and canoes, it’s all about computer screens, ear buds, and kids gathered around an iPad. That’s right: Tech camps are having their moment.

Game modding, robotics, coding, and even app creation are some of the most popular programs offered for kids as young as 8. And if you're concerned about your kid spending the summer indoors glued to a computer, consider this: Educational experts consider the knowledge that kids gain at these camps to be essential 21st-century skills and critical for any STEM-related field. (Plus, any camp worth its salt will offer plenty of outdoor and socializing time.)

Still, the camp descriptions are inside baseball to those of us who aren't steeped in the lingo. We've rounded up some of the most popular camps, as well as what you can expect your kid to learn. (Find out more about the subjects and skills kids can gain from tech products.)

Programming with Scratch
Created by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a programming language designed for kids. With a strong following in the education community, Scratch lets kids create and share stories, games, and animations using a super kid-friendly drag-and-drop interface.
What kids can learn: creative thinking, reasoning, and communication

Minecraft Game Design
If your kid plays Minecraft he -- or she -- can take the game to the next level with this engaging (some might say addicting) world-building game. Using the program's teaching module, MinecraftEDU, kids learn how to create new games, design levels, and host other players on a server.
What kids can learn: creativity, spatial reasoning, geometry, teamwork

Robotics
Yes, it really is making robots. But along with hands-on creation, kids also program their machines using real-world computer-coding languages like Basic, C++, Java, and Arduino. Popular kits used at camps include fun, kid-friendly products like LEGO Mindstorms, Vex Robotics, and the Sphero Robotics Ball.
What kids can learn: hands-on mechanics, critical-thinking, collaboration, career skills

3D Animation
By animating their art, kids can hone their drawing and writing skills, express their creativity, learn to give and accept feedback, and pick up some potentially valuable career experience. Programs used at animation camps range from educationally-oriented programs like Animate It! and Go Animate to the pro-level Maya from Autodesk.
What kids can learn: communication, design principles, creative expression

Video creation
With so many kids carrying the tools of video creation -- and distribution -- on their cell phones, it makes sense to teach them how to use the technology wisely. Whether it’s a music video, a documentary, or a short film, video creation camps take kids from storyboarding to production to editing. 
What kids can learn: creative expression, leadership, digital citizenship

Video Game Design and Modding
Designing new games or creating levels for existing games (called modding) encourages more thought and self-reflection then you might think. By shifting from player to creator, kids start to think about their audience as real humans (not simply anonymous opponents) -- which means they’ll consider what their message is. And they’ll problem-solve the entire time. GameMaker, Minecraft, Gamestar Mechanic, LittleBigPlanet2, Trackmania, and Kodu Game Lab are all popular programs used at game-design camps.
What kids can learn: thinking and reasoning, responsibility, ethics, problem-solving

App Design
What if, instead of bringing home a useless (no offense) lanyard, your kid created a killer app? Geared for older kids and teens, software development tools (called SDKs) for iOS, Android, and Windows are easily accessible. Camps also use AppInventor.org, Stencyl, and the website Codecademy for teaching kids to create apps.
What kids can learn: tech skills, self-direction, collaboration

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (4)

Teen, 14 years old written by Strategist101

Honestly, tech camps? Last I checked, "Camp" meant outdoors, tents, exploration, fishing, hunting, etc. It's SUMMER, after all! You can do what I do, (run off into the forest with a KA-Bar and a bug-out bag) or just go to say, a Boy Scouts summer camp. Go to the shooting range, learn to fire some rifles, pistols, revolving pistols, whatever. Summer is one of my favorite times of the year to go outside. I have a camp-out with some of my not so out-door-sy friends at the end of the schoolyear and they enjoy it. Granted, I enjoy the forests and lakes more than some people, as I've had survival training. I suppose it's everybody's own opinion that matters, though. -Strategist
Educator written by LenaeKM

I could not disagree with you more. As an educator for 35 years and also tech savvy, camp experiences during the summer where children are outside running, playing and learning about their world is of utmost importance. My children who are now in their twenties, made plenty of "useless lanyards" in camp and that is what they remember. I'm not sure they would still be talking about learning to code in camp. Walking up hills to camp, singing around the campfire, the woods experience, arts and crafts, and swimming outside, are all the things that camp is made of. Children have all year to take classes in coding and STEM design (if that is what they want to do.) Developing relationships away from technology, learning new skills that will make them "better people" and those silly card games and lanyards too, are what summers are made of. Let's not contribute to "Nature Deficit Disorder."
Educator and Parent of a 15 year old written by Caroline Knorr

You make some great points and I really appreciate your perspective. I completely agree that outdoor time -- especially experiencing the natural world -- is absolutely essential for kids. I really think it's about finding a good balance. Summer tech camps should offer a lot of unstructured, running-around time in addition to the computer stuff. The reality of today's world though is that many parents have to find several weeks' worth of activities for their kids over the summer. Tech camps are a nice option for parents who want their kids to get some academic benefits in over the summer. There are some tech camps I've seen that combine the desk-bound activities with mountain biking, soccer, Frisbee, and other physical programs.
Parent of a 12 and 12 year old written by lauren.whitehur...

Best classes I know are Youth Digital. My son has been taking them for 3 years and I highly recommend them--he doesn't even realize he's learning the skills. He is having too much fun.

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