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Solving real world problems with a little creativity and a whole lot of fun

Words by Edyn Herbert

Okay, before getting into the meat of this story it’s important to start by saying there is a reason cliches exist, and it’s because they hold a lot of truth. In the case of Camp Invention, which Dori Zori and I got to go check out and even talk to some campers while we were there, the cliche, “Children are the future,” perfectly applies.


Camp Invention started in 1990 in Ohio as a summer outreach program. Today, the camp has extended to 49 states, 1,300 sites, and inspires 83,000 kids a year. We talked to Camp Director Courtney Klein at the camp in Sussex who helped us fully understand and appreciate all that Camp Invention does and has to offer their campers. “The mission is a complete let go of the box and an implement of creativity and problem solving for the kids to be able to do whatever they desire to solve real world challenges,” says Klein. “There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s all real world problem solving and collaboration in a fun and inviting way for kids.”     


As we walked around camp, the mission was being achieved in every corner we passed. One of the coolest parts about the camp is the fact that the kids are getting themselves involved in real world concepts, and because of the way they’re exploring these ideas, it’s received in an extremely unintimidating way. Klein explains, “It makes all of the learning experience more fun and they don’t even realize that they’re doing it and then once you start talking to the kids and you ask them why they’re doing this or what their reasoning for doing things, the way that they explain it is physics and it is math and it is engineering, they just don’t realize it.”


Seriously though, this happened. We were walking through one of the classrooms and the kids were working on circuits. One of the young boys had just figured out that by touching certain colored wires together, he could generate heat. Courtney took a break from talking to us to address the amazing learning experience that was happening right before us. She asked him why he thinks it works that way and he went on to explain the entire concept better than any textbook ever did for me in middle school. I was amazed, and inspired, and just feeling a lot of “YES!” about Camp Invention.


And then there’s the incredibly cool factor that Camp Invention has a partnership with the US Patent and Trademark office so the kids actually get real life inspiration from some of the inductees. Courtney told us: “For them , seeing real life people doing these things it gives more validity to their ideas. That it’s not just a grown up saying (in a condescending tone) ‘Oh you made something out of a milk jug? Cool.’ Like it actually is! If you made a robot and it can do that thing, then that is a great idea and you should fly with it and figure out what problem it could solve and take it and go! Camp gives them that confidence they need that their ideas matter.”


Full disclosure, I am actually a Camp Invention alum, so it was really cool for me to get to go back to a camp that was actually very important in my intellectual growth. Campers range in age from six to 13 or in other terms, grades 1st through 6th. I did the camp when I was nine and just about to enter the 4th grade. I remembered each classroom being dedicated to a different aspect of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) related activity, which hasn’t changed. But I also remember looking around and being a little self-conscience about being heavily dominated by the boy population at the camp. STEM related fields have historically never been directed at women, and that professional concept was overwhelmingly reflected at an elementary level.


This time around the girl population stood at a much better 40/60 in comparison to the boys. While still noting the lack of equal representation, it was a promising discovery. We asked Courtney her perspective: “The boy to girl ratio is increasing more and more every year. I think once girls realize that this isn’t just a boy thing you have some girls in here that are taking things apart and digging in and looking into a computer tower and looking for gears and gadgets and coming up with creative ways to do things. And I don’t know if it’s the school system or if it’s just how we portray gender that maybe girls think they can’t do this, but here we are definitely noticing more and more girls every year and personally as a woman to see that these girls could have just as good if not better ideas than a boy and really break that stereotype is really awesome to be apart of.”    


In the same classroom that the young boy was discovering the concept of electrons, two girls were taking apart a computer and examining the intense circuiting. Regan (11) and Kira (10) both understood the importance of increasing acceptance for girls in STEM related fields. Regan told us “Boys think they’re better than girls and when you think of scientists most people think of boys, but we think of girls, we think of everyone.” Kira happily added, “At camp invention, everyone can be included.”  

And after spending a chunk of time at Camp Invention there is no question about inclusion, acceptance, and inspiration being felt all around. Courtney summed it up the best when she said “Some of the things they’re coming up with I have never even thought about. I wouldn’t be surprised if some day a camp invention camper came up with the next best thing.”

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee