Robotics & Beyond: Programs for Kids

August 2, 2012

A Visit To Robotics & Beyond Summer Camp

By: Allyson Kane, Publisher Mom, Macaroni Kid New Milford - Kent - Litchfield
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"Failure is part of life. Get used to it. Get over it. Have fun. Succeed!"

The above quote appears on a poster board hanging above a workbench of tools and wires that are used to create a tangible object from a child's dream.

This week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Robotics & Beyond summer camp, observing the activities, chatting with the campers and interviewing the founders of the program. To say that I was impressed with the level of participation, learning, and fun that was occurring in the room would be an understatement.

Robotics & Beyond is in its 9th season. The campers range in age from 9-18 with veteran campers who are badged as "mentors". The mixed age range in this environment is critical. The different ability levels help teach through modeling which keeps an open level of communication among the campers while they learn instead of a competition based model. The program is centered around S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathmatics). However, Robotics & Beyond is more than just a camp where you build robots. Robotics & Beyond is a place where creativity is fostered and lasting friendships are made.

Robotics is simply an entry point for this enviornment. The camp's main focus is bringing together science and technology. The children's expectations are not only about building a robot, but programming it. Robotics & Beyond brings together the disciplines of electronics, computer science, mechanics, graphic design, and mathematics to bring an idea to life.

I got a quick lesson in robots while I was observing and learned about the parts of a robot (sensors, motors, and a computer). On the first day of camp, campers are asked to create a robot that will navigate a maze taped onto a wooden structure. This task seemed incredibly overwhelming to me, but every single child was focused on writing their programming notes, finding the pieces they needed to build their robot, and test driving their creations. While chatting with one of the co-founders, Paul Chayka, I think my apprehension was sensed.

"It's about keeping it simple," Paul said. "We don't overwhelm. We break it down. Simple steps. A step-by-step approach to learning."

Thirteen-year-old Sammi has attended camp for the last three summers. She talked about how building was hard for her at first. "I'm a visual person", she said. "It helped me to see what it might look like before trying to make one myself." Sammi also talked about how inspiring the enviornment can be, how she admired her mentors and was thankful for the friends she made there.

I specifically wanted to know what the differences were between a camp like this and school. Sammi talked about how much more friendly the environment is at camp. She is given more time to truly understand tasks and is never afraid to ask for help or to ask questions regarding the project. Eleven-year-old Thomas agreed with her. "We have freedom to do what interests us most," he said.

Robotics & Beyond is not just a Summer Camp. There are after school programs and weekend events that occur year-round. However, if you're looking for a week full of creativity and inspiration, there's still room to register for a one-week camp session. For more information or to register for camp, visit www.roboticsandbeyond.com.

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