Summer Tech Camps: Fun and Learning from Minecraft to Mars

Kids want a summer full of fun and excitement, while parents hope their children will expand their horizons and keep learning even if they aren’t in the classroom. There are numerous summer camp options focused on technology that ensure kids have a fun, exciting and educational experience.

Whether you have a child who is obsessed with Minecraft or who wants to travel to Mars (or both!), there are offerings available across the country. Camps range from half-day sessions to overnight camps that last a week or two, so there are options that fit what your camper can handle.

“Look at a wide array of programs, and find one that your child loves to do. Follow your child’s lead,” says Dee Guiney, founder of GreenApple Campus. There are as many tech camps as there are interests, including those that incorporate sports, drawing, music, math, and—of course—science. Here are a few fun options to consider.

Space Camp is Out of This World

For many parents, the first tech summer camp they ever heard of was Space Camp, perhaps as a result of the 1986 movie set there. Lea Thompson and Kelly Preston may not be campers any longer, but Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., is still going strong. It has attracted more than 600,000 trainees since it started in 1982. Now, in addition to three different levels of Space Camp, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center offers Aviation Challenge Camp and Robotics Camp. All three are weeklong experiences and offer different levels suited to kids ranging in age from nine to 18.

While most people think of Space Camp as a training ground for future astronauts, “they do a really good job of focusing on jobs other than just the astronauts, so it was probably the first time that being in Mission Control crossed my mind,” says Morgan Van Arsdall of Annapolis, Md., who attended Space Academy I. She is now an Aerospace Engineer for Lockheed Martin who works on the Hubble Space Telescope. “It really helped cement my interest in the space program, but it was more fun than anything else.”

Photo courtesy of Space Camp.

If traveling to Huntsville isn’t feasible for you and your future scientist, check out a planetarium or science museum near you for summer camp offerings. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History offers Astronomy and Cosmology day camp to students entering high school that includes a focus on data collection and analysis as well as a visit to the NASA Glenn Visitor Center at the Great Lakes Science Center. In Chicago, the Adler Planetarium offers summer day camps for explorers in pre-school through tenth grade. Mission: Near Space pairs campers with Adler astronomers to prepare experiments to fly on a high altitude balloon mission.

STEM Camps

iD Tech Camps offers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camps for kids ages six through 18 at 100 campus locations in 29 states and Washington, D.C. Programs are held on campuses including including Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, MIT, UCLA, Northwestern, Vassar, Columbia, and Emory. Options range from half-day day camps to overnight camps lasting up to two weeks, and topics include programming in Java™ or C++, apps, game design, website design and robotics. Formers campers now work for tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Zynga (the company behind Words with Friends).

Now in its thirteenth year of programming, GreenApple Campus is a nonprofit organization that Guiney launched after a search for summer tech opportunities for her daughters. “I realized that tech camp was something that all kids can enjoy,” she says.

GreenApple offers camps at locations in the Chicago and Boston areas. Programs range from RoboSports and Battle Bots to 3D Animation. Since its inception, GreenApple programming has evolved with the company “following the lead of what kids like and what parents like,” with coding now the most popular offering.

“Last year, I could not get over the fact that every single coding program at every single location was full. That would never have happened 10 years ago,” Guiney says. The camps focused on Minecraft are especially popular.

What children learn about coding in summer camp teaches them valuable lessons. “Campers learn to ask themselves questions like, ‘What’s the objective? How do I get there? How do I collaborate?’” says Guiney. “We try to emphasize critical thinking, seeing the big picture and how to attain that goal.”

“Coding is a system-design way of thinking with a project mentality that will serve anyone for the rest of their life,” Guiney explains.

Other possibilities can be found at museums across the country. In Washington, D.C. , the Smithsonian Summer Camp includes week-long day camps focusing on Video Game Design, Anime, and Digital Arts Mashup. All camps have a camper to instructor ratio of 4:1. In San Jose, California, it’s no surprise that the Tech Museum of Innovation offers exciting summer camps for kids entering grades four through eight, like DIY Virtual Reality and Mobile App Creation.

Girls-Only Tech Camps

Microsoft DigiGirlz High Tech Camp for high school girls aims to dispel stereotypes as well as give girls hands-on experience developing cutting-edge technology. Founded in 2000, the camp takes place in 10 locations in the United States in addition to four international locations. There is no charge for this two-to-three day camp (duration varies by location).

Local offerings often include girl-only options. The Adler Planetarium’s Girls Only Tech Camps are open to girls entering fourth through seventh grades. Girls use Lego Robotics as well as Sketch-Up 3D Modeling and video recording and editing. A co-ed version of the camp is also offered.

Tech camp can be a great way to expand your children’s horizons and give them a summer experience that is out of this world—literally and figuratively.

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