Once summer vacation begins, children may forget what they learned during the school year. One way to offset that is with educational camps.
According to Scott Vollmer, vice president of STEM learning at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, and Michael Zabinski, executive director of National Computer Camps and professor of engineering at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn., educational camps allow children to have fun and stay sharp.
“At educational camps, we provide an opportunity to get excited about learning, and at our camp, particularly about computer science,” Zabinski said. “We do it in a way where it doesn’t seem like school, but they still learn a huge amount. It augments their education and opens their eyes to brand-new opportunities that schools can’t do like camps can.”
Vollmer added, “Learning loss is a very real thing. You want your child to continue learning through the summer. But anyone with a child knows motivating a child in the summer is difficult. That is where educational camps come in. It’s not school, but it will keep that pace in the summer that kids are used to in the school year.”
Both professionals added educational camps provide experiences that children won’t get elsewhere.
“Educational camp experiences provide an environment for growth, specifically about facing failure,” Vollmer explained. “In other camps, you don’t get those opportunities to fail and you definitely don’t get that at school. At summer camp, you can botch something and try over. There is a high reward with low risk.”
Another benefit lies in spending time with like-minded children, as they’re all at the camp because of common interests.
“It’s a very homogeneous group of kids,” Zabinski stated. “You’re surrounded by kids like you. Kids that are fascinated and want to learn more. This is learning without pressure, threats or confrontation. You can teach kids and they continuously absorb.”
There are various ways educational camps differ from more traditional camp experiences, besides the obvious.
“We have more structure than a typical camp experience,” Vollmer noted. “That comes from the fact that it is an educational camp. But, we strive to gain real outcomes here. We offer some of the same things as traditional camps like friend building. But the skills at educational camps are unique because they directly translate to school. Students can be a lot more confident when they sit down at school.”
Zabinski added, “We focus on what kids want to learn. At a general camp, there are a fair number of activities that you’re not interested in. Suppose you don’t like to go swimming but swimming is part of the agenda. But at our camp, you do want you like and learn what you’re interested in all the time. You’re surrounded by computers and like-minded people.”
When selecting an educational camp for one’s child, Vollmer and Zabinski said research is key.
“Start with the internet, type in computer camp or whatever camp you might be interested in,” Zabinski explained. “You’d get a host of choices and then narrow it down as you go. It’s all about doing research. Also, it doesn’t hurt to do research by word of mouth, too. All camps, or at least most, have web pages and have an online presence. Start there.”
Vollmer, who is also a parent of an 11-year-old who goes to camp, said he starts with reviews and staff credentials.
“You’re looking for a fun experience, but you want a program where the teachers are licensed,” he stated. “Not only will it be better content-wise, but there are safety benefits as well.”
Additionally, Vollmer explained the importance of choosing an educational camp based on a child’s interests.
“Your child can be challenged at any educational camp but they do need to be interested,” he said. “You need to find out what you’re comfortable with as a parent, but find out what your child likes as well.”