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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
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
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
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
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