Summer is the perfect time for kids to delve into their interests in a supportive environment.
- Dana Villamagna, Toca Magazine Writer
When Leonardo da Vinci was a boy, his dad worried.
Young Leonardo loved building things, so his father bought him architecture books. But before long, Leonardo lost interest in building and became obsessed with bugs. When Leonardo’s fascination with bugs ended, he began painting, so his dad bought paintbrushes. On and on, Leonardo’s interests changed, and that worried his frustrated father.
Dad da Vinci obviously had nothing to fear. His son’s varied childhood interests all contributed to his great success as a scientist, artist and inventor. Now we know that this type of child-led, interest-based learning with adult support is one of the best ways for kids to learn.
Online summer camps give kids a 21st-century version of the exploratory experiences young da Vinci had 500 years ago. Camps like DIY Camps, Maker Camp and Camp Google empower kids to try a multitude of projects, activities and themes, free from the pressure of grades or deadlines.
One of my son’s current interests is comic books, so I enrolled him in DIY’s Comic Book Camp. The four-week camp is among many of DIY’s camp options, including Lego Master Camp, Stop Motion Camp, Outdoor Adventure Camp and more.
DIY camps connect kids with adult counselors who give campers challenges and support them with ideas and feedback. Along with 11 other kids in the comic book camp, my son received brief video challenges from the counselor, Lauren.
DIY CEO Zach Klein said DIY staff “hunts for the world’s best counselors.”
“These are people who are — no matter where they live — passionate about the world and some way of being creative within it,” Klein said.
Kids stay engaged in learning
One of the obvious benefits of online summer camps is that they keep kids engaged in learning. That intellectual engagement is key to preventing the “summer slide,” which can zap kids of weeks if not months of the previous school year’s progress and cause teachers to spend the first weeks back to school reteaching content. Some online camps like Brain Chase and Camp Wonderopolis include STEM and other subject-specific learning challenges, especially useful for kids who may need extra support for school-based subjects over the summer.
Other benefits unique to online camps may not seem directly related to school success, but they may contribute to kids’ learning in equally important ways. Online summer camps may contribute to good digital citizenship by setting the expectation early that online communities should be positive places based on shared interest, rather than a free-for-all based on who posts the most inflammatory comments or best-looking photos.
Kids connect with other kids who share their passion
Some online camps connect kids with other like-minded but faraway kids. This is especially affirming for kids who don’t know anyone locally who shares their enthusiasm for a hobby or interest. In fact, it surprises me how much my 9-year-old’s friends at school can influence his interests: if none of his friends at school are interested in comic books, then it’s perceived as uncool. So it’s especially great for kids like him that online camps have the ability to connect kids all over the world who already share an interest. Maker Camp includes local groups in many locations, too.
Check out these summer camp options:
- DIY Camps: Age 7 and up. New camps begin every Saturday, and last four weeks. Hosted by DIY.org. First camp is $10, then $39 per camp.
- Maker Camp: Age 8 to 12. Begins July 6; new theme each week. Find local affiliates here. Hosted by the producers of Maker Faire. Cost: Free.
- Camp Google: Age 7 to 10. Weekly themes include Space Week, Nature Week and Music Week. Cost: Free.
- Camp Wonderopolis: Grades 2 to 8. Began June 16 (kids can join anytime). Hosted by the National Center for Families Learning. Cost: Free.
- Brain Chase: Grades 2 to 8. Registration for the current session is closed but you can sign up for an email alert for the next session. Hosted by Brain Chase. Prices from $199 to $249 (sibling discounts available).
After Comic Book Camp ended, my son joined DIY’s Minecraft Camp (twice). Even though he’s already a self-proclaimed “Minecraft expert” he’s learning a lot from the counselor’s building challenges and basking in the daily interaction with other Minecraft-loving kids on a closed server just for him and his fellow campers.
Like da Vinci’s father, I can’t foretell the nuggets of knowledge or creativity that my kid will carry forward from these experiences, and that’s OK. I know he’s learned a lot this summer right in the comfort of our home. Whatever his interests may be next summer, I’ll sign him up for the online camp or buy him the paintbrushes, or both … and not worry at all.
(Find the entire tale of da Vinci’s childhood adventures and his father’s worries in the enchanting storybook Leonardo da Vinci by Ibi Lepscky).