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March, 2006

Camping and Computers

For the thousands of youngsters who will be going off to camp this summer, the call of the wild may include computers and for their parents it means another factor must be weighed in deciding what constitutes the perfect place at which a child can best experience a computer sleep-away or day camp. The first ever computer camp was established in 1977 by Dr. Michael Zabinski, Professor of Engineering at Fairfield University. Now 28 years later Zabinski’s National Computer Camps (NCC) are offered this summer at Fairfield University, as well as in Cleveland and Atlanta. “Computers Are For Kids” has been the motto at the National Computer Camps since 1977. To see why, visit the camp at www.NCCamp.com and check out the curriculum, slide show, privacy statement and what parents say about NCC.

What are the keys to a good computer camp?

There are many important ingredients that differentiate computer camps, but the most important are the staff and the curriculum:

The Staff: Instructors need to be passionate about computer technology. National Computer Camp selects outstanding ex-campers to join the staff. These young men and women have incredible knowledge, are enthusiastic and provide continuity. They are excellent role models for the campers. The staff skillfully administers the camp’s philosophy of motivating campers by presenting age appropriate lessons in exciting ways with examples the campers can relate to and identify with. The ideal camper to staff ratio is 6:1.

The curriculum needs to cater to a wide range of campers’ interests, backgrounds and ability levels. The camp needs to provide instruction in a wide range of subject matter and campers then select among various courses. For example, at the National Computer Camp at Fairfield University instruction is offered in:

  • * Video game design
  • * Computer languages
  • * Web page design
  • * Software applications
  • * Digital video production

Video game design – A camper has a truly amazing idea for a game, but does he/she know what to do with it? Transforming the idea into an actual game is the challenge. In this project oriented course, campers become familiar with game design software and learn the skills needed to turn a cool idea into a really cool game by mastering the techniques and elements that go into creating games such as action, adventure, arcade and role playing games.

Computer Languages – Instruction is offered in BASIC, Visual Basic, C++, Java, Open-GL, Assembler, HTML, XML, JavaScript. Instruction is interactive at the computer and campers “learn by doing.” Each week instruction in these computer languages needs to be offered for all levels from beginner to advanced. Campers select one of these languages and study it for the week.

Web Page Design – The HTML language is used to write web pages and is appropriate for campers of all ages. Once the camper completes his/her personal web page it is uploaded to the Internet. As the camper progresses through the curriculum he/she has the opportunity to also learn Photoshop and Flash. These software applications are used to enhance the graphics and animations of web pages. More advanced campers may also choose to integrate Javascript and Java applets into their web pages.

Software Applications – At the National Computer Camp, age appropriate software applications are taught in the afternoon during the creative computing period. Each day campers select among Photo Shop, 3-D Graphics, Flash, Web Animation, Networking, Power Point and Excel.

Digital Video Production – Want to be a film maker? A movie director? Campers have fun as they write and shoot their movies and then transfer their footage from the camera to the hard drive. With the aid of video software the images are manipulated: use the razor tool, add transitions and filters, superimpose graphic titles and add music. The final version of each project is recorded on CD for the campers to take home.

Other considerations

Here are some specific things to look for, ask about, and beware of in looking for the right computer camp.
Hardware: Be sure to ask what kind of computers the camp uses, for example, PC or Mac, and is the hardware state-of-the-art? It is frustrating for campers to return from camp and not be able practice what they have learned.

Computer/Camper ratio: Most experts agree that working in pairs is very beneficial. There is more interaction between campers and they tend to share their ideas. However, the camp needs to be flexible and accommodate campers who prefer to work alone.

Fellow Campers: Find out the age range of the kids that the camp tends to attract. If you are a 15 year-old novice, are you going to find yourself sharing a computer with a 12 year old? Or are you going to be the only girl? Ask the camp for its track record. That will give parents an idea if other campers of equal age will be present to share more than an interest in computers.

A Typical Day: The camp day needs to be balanced. In addition to computer instruction the camp needs to offer recreational and social activities. However, it is important that these activities are optional and that the computer room is always open during these recreational periods. For example, campers should not be required to participate in sports if that is not a preference. For example, at National Computer Camp computer instruction is offered 5 hours a day. In addition, campers may elect to participate in optional sports, visit the University’s game room, watch a movie, or enjoy a variety of software available on the camp’s computers. Chess, checkers and Connect Four tournaments, game-a-thons and Olympics are also popular.

Reference List: No parent should send a youngster to camp without first obtaining feedback from ex-campers’ parents. National Computer Camp sends out automatically a camp reference list with every request for a brochure.

Supervision – Camper safety is of utmost importance. You need to be absolutely sure that all camp activities including the dorms are supervised at all times. You may even want to ask the director if the camp has had any lawsuits.

Finally, it is very important to recognize that a computer camp is not a summer school, but rather a place where learning and fun are rolled into one and where the campers’ self esteem is of foremost importance. What distinguishes NCC from other computer camps is that NCC aims to provide campers with life long computer skills. At NCC campers arrive with a dream and leave with a future. Visit the National Computer Camps website at www.NCCamp.com to learn more.

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