APRIL 23, 2001

E-happy campers
Computers beat canoes

By Dori Jones Yang

Forget canoeing and campfires. In the 21st century, the cool place for kids to be during summer is at computer camp. Campers get to stay in real college dorm rooms (possibly the closest they’ll get to Stanford or MIT) and fool around with the latest software for graphics, robotics, and 3-D animation.

Once strictly mom and pop operations, computer camps are now a fast-growing business with weekly price tags starting at $600 for day campers and $900 for overnighters. The top three operators expect to attract 32,800 wannabe whizzes, up from 20,700 last summer. Only 20 percent of their campers are girls, but that’s way up from five years ago. IDTech Camps of California pioneered with a girl-oriented week in 1999, including a video-production course. “We see a huge appetite for kids wanting to learn technology,” says Peter Findley, 27, CEO and founder of Cybercamps, No. 2 in the industry with more than 40 locations nationwide. “Human beings learn better when they’re having fun.”

Although most schools now have Internet connections, a lack of trained teachers has helped push programming out of curricula, says Fairfield University engineering professor Michael Zabinski, Ph.D., who founded the industry in 1977 with the first National Computer Camp.

As fun as it is to stare at a computer screen, many camps force kids outside for at least part of the day, if only for a frisbee game. “We teach kids it’s important to be well-rounded,” says Findley. And they can still short sheet the beds.

© 2001 U.S.News & World Report Inc. All rights reserved.

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