U.S. Summer Camps Get Sustainable and STEM Spins

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Summer camp is a time-honored tradition in the United States. After all, more than 14 million children and adults attend camp every year here. And while some children head to the same campgrounds their parents and grandparents attended back in their day, there are all sorts of new opportunities for summer camps these days — including ones to help kids become more involved in STEM fields and environmental preservation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future of the U.S. economy is in STEM occupations — that’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In fact, STEM employment is projected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022, which comes out to around 13%. These opportunities are typically well-paid and more abundant than in many other industries. If younger generations want to take advantage, it would behoove them to get interested early.

That’s what many summer camps are now trying to accomplish. Of course, for kids and teens, STEM programs need to appeal to their interests. Research has shown that girls start to lose interest in STEM subjects around age 15. The causes of this decline are multi-faceted, but the lack of female role models and opportunities combined with educational gender bias and low self-esteem all play a part. Many of these camps are addressing the gender divide in STEM fields by creating programs specifically for young girls. And some are even putting a sustainable spin on STEM.

In Alabama, Tech Trek (a nationwide program that was formed in 1998 and came to the state in 2014) brings rising eighth-grade females to experiential summer camps with a tech and science focus. The programs are headed by successful female scientists, engineers, and tech professionals. This year, 64 girls from 46 Alabama schools participated in activities involving cyber security, NASA robotics, the development of mobile apps, rocket building and launching, and sustainable energy.

In San Francisco, California, one startup called KiraKira has created a summer camp that makes STEM topics even more fun for kids. The company has combined fashion design, 3D printing, and engineering to make STEM more tangible and stylish. Each of their one-week camps has a distinct focus ranging from jewelry to fashion to industrial design. Campers sketch out their ideas and then print out their 3D creations. The company has even partnered up with a sustainable fashion brand, Amour Vert, to construct their summer courses.

At the KiraKira camp, kids not only learn some important skills that are needed in architecture, design, and other types of innovation, but they’ll learn more about becoming entrepreneurs, too. They can design everything from sunglasses, iPhone cases, lamps, and more before selling their own products on KiraKira’s website.

And in Oregon, a new camp called Sustainable You! will give kids a taste of eco-friendly STEM activities later this month. Participants will learn how to make wind- and solar-powered machines, cook in solar ovens, and more. According to the press release, the camp focuses on five distinct areas: forests, air, food, energy, and water. Rising fifth through seventh graders are eligible to participate.

Although there’s something to be said for local YMCA day camps or traditional sleepaway camps, many families will be delighted to find options that are more than just a cure for boredom: rather, they’re an investment in the future of both their child and the planet.

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