Where Camp Invention isn’t offered, students have plenty of other options.
“What didn’t exist five years ago is now a very crowded market of people trying to figure out how to infuse technology education – to spin coding, development, and programming into their kids’ arsenal of tools,” said Sally Lowery, vice president of marketing for Youth Digital. “We’ve become a very digitally inclined community.”
Founded in 2010, Youth Digital’s summer camps reach kids in 65 schools across 6 states. The organization also offers additional online resources for children who want to leverage their camp skills all year long.
A bulk of the camp’s courses build upon a child’s existing interest in video games to teach programming fundamentals.
“Kids spend an enormant amount of time consuming video games. They’re playing all the time,” Lowery said. “Parents want them to use that time more productively.”
Minecraft makes compromising easy.
Purchased by Microsoft in 2014, Minecraft is a “sandbox” game where users roam freely in a world where everything is made from blocks. The average player age is 29, and 40 percent of players are female.
Within the game, users can create custom characters and use Java to program “third party mods,” user-submitted changes to the imaginary world.
“They can create their own sword and design their own pick ax, armor or food,” said John Putnam, Youth Digital’s director of summer camps. “We’re exposing these kids to these tools they could be using one day down the road.”
The tools, however, don’t come at the expense of fun and meeting new friends.
“People think, ‘Oh they’re sitting in a dark room in front of a computer for 6 hours a day’,” said Joan Rigdon, founder of The Great Adventure Lab. “It’s not like that at all.”
Rigdon, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, created The Great Adventure Lab in September 2010 with her husband, Eric, a software engineer who works at NASA on Mars and moon missions.
Future STEM superstars enjoy their time at the Great Adventure Lab! Photo Courtesy of Great Adventure Lab.
Since then, the company, which offers STEM-themed birthday parties and summer programs at schools throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, has helped instruct more than 10,000 children on how to write their first program.
Created by the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, Scratch is a “drag-and-drop” programming language that allows users to build “scripts” by dragging blocks together – like a jigsaw puzzle – to form interactive stories.
The program, according to MIT’s website, is primarily designed for kids ages 8 to 16.
By the time they graduate from college, however, most of these children probably won’t become programmers. But that doesn’t make the training any less important.