A scientist has been stranded on Mars and is in dire need of rescue. Sound like the plot of a best-selling book and movie? This summer, it’s also an immersive day-camp experience at Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland hills.
As interest in STEAM subjects continues to skyrocket, many parents will be looking this summer for camps that keep their kids learning about science, technology, engineering, art and math – while also being fun and engaging.
Many of the Bay Area’s science museums are up to the challenge, and staffers say they are ideal locations for such summer explorations. After all, making the wonder of science and technology relatable to kids is what they do year-round. For camps, museums have the added advantage of facilities from planetariums to labs to hands-on exhibits, as well as staff with expertise in science and education.
"Parents are increasingly wanting (camp) to make a connection with what’s happening during the school year," says Caleb Chung, Chabot’s director of education. But they also want "something that is active and engaging … and also something that engages (kids) creatively around innovations or science or engineering challenges, not something passive or just connecting the dots."
Last summer, Chabot relaunched its camp programming after a hiatus with Mars Adventure, in which campers in first through sixth grades simulate a weeklong rescue mission of a stranded scientist. Each day starts in the planetarium theater with a video message broadcast from the scientist, and then campers split up by grade level to solve challenges – from surviving in space to landing on Mars. The campers use the museum’s exhibit spaces, including a space simulation station. The week ends with the group going out into the neighboring park to retrieve the lost scientist.
"It was really cool the way they were able to set up the illusion that someone was on Mars," says parent Scott Leiker of Oakland whose son, Anthony, now 11, attended the camp last summer. Anthony, who is often anxious about new environments and had been hesitant to attend camps, "didn’t want to leave."
"Whatever they did, they figured out a way to make him really engaged in the process," Leiker says. "The warm, engaging, kid-centered staff was really helpful (in) tailoring their program to get him excited about the content and appeal to his interests but modified it so he didn’t feel under undue stress to perform."
Mars Adventure camp will return this summer, along with other themes. Here’s a sampling of some of the other camps local museums are offering this summer:
Bay Area Discovery Museum. This children’s museum favorite offers a variety of Discovery Camps each week exploring science, art and more for kids in preschool through ninth grade, grouped by age. Preschoolers, for instance, can try their hand at potions, experiments and explosions in Big Discoveries: Scientific Inquiry, while second- through fourth-graders can take Fab Fashion in the museum’s maker space, the Fab Lab, in which they use high-tech design tools and equipment to make clothing and accessories, and then plan and put on a fashion show. Those entering first through third grades can create a collaborative city using architectural and engineering principles in the new Blueprints by BADM. There’s also Fort Building, Monster Making, Robots and more. Additional camps are offered at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross.
Fourth- through ninth-graders can sign up to be junior counselors ($200), assisting with camp activities and serving as role models for younger campers while learning leadership skills and teaching strategies. June 4-Aug. 24. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. with extended care available for an extra fee. $360. Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415-339-3900. bayareadiscoverymuseum.org/activities/summer-camps/.
Children’s Creativity Museum. Girls ages 9-12 can build moving inventions, program robots, conduct science experiments and create interactive artwork with electronics at the two-week Girls in STEAM camp July 16-27 ($700 for two weeks). Other camps offered at this hands-on Yerba Buena museum with an art and technology focus include Creativity Camps with a dinosaur or Art Lab theme for ages 3-5, Artist and Architects for ages 6-8 and Creativity Playwriting for ages 9-12, in which campers write 10-minute plays that are read by guest actors at the end of the session. Various sessions June 18-Aug. 10. $275 (half-day) and $375-400 (full day) per week. After-care available at some camps for an additional fee. Scholarships available. Discounts available for members. 221 Fourth St., San Francisco. 415-820-3320. creativity.org/camps/.
Chabot Space & Science Center
In addition to Mars Adventure, Chabot is creating a new camp in conjunction with its recently opened "Project Create" exhibit, a tinkering and making space. Campers in grades 1-6 can enroll in Camp Create to use real tools to make both high- and low-tech projects including sewable circuits, jewelry, a cardboard arcade and a recycled materials derby.
Another camp for grades 1-6 is Operation Moon Base, in which campers determine how to live on the moon. In Eco-Animation, for grades 3-6, campers create stop-motion animation films on taking care of the planet, culminating in a mini film festival. Camp activities occur in Chabot’s labs, classrooms and museum spaces, as well as outdoors in Redwood Regional Park. Weeklong camps are available select weeks from June 25-Aug. 3 and run 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with extended care available for an additional fee. $499 per week. Discounts for members. 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7450. firstname.lastname@example.org. chabotspace.org.
Lawrence Hall of Science. UC Berkeley’s hands-on science museum offers dozen of camps, from half-day to specialty overnight camps, for kids age 4 though high school. Among this summer’s offerings, pre-kindergarteners can create their own inventions in Toy Factory, second- and third-graders can learn animation or build and program LEGO robots, and fourth- and fifth-graders can design a city using civil, structural and mechanical engineering or combine chemistry and electricity with artistry to make paints, create with electric-current thread and more in Maker Arts.
The Hall also offers camps for middle-schoolers in LEGO robotics and genetics, as well as Coding Nanosatellites for grade 8-10, Bioprinting Technology for grade 9-12 and a special Marine Biology residential camp for high schoolers at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab in Bodega Bay. June 11-Aug. 17. Half-day: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. or 1-4 p.m. Extended care available for an additional fee. $270 per week half day; $605 full day; specialty camps from $1,000 and up. Discounts for members and need-based scholarships available.1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. 510-642-5132. lawrencehallofscience.org.
The Tech Museum of Innovation. At the Tech, students in fourth through eighth grades can choose from 22 hands-on offerings, taking them in the morning, afternoon or both during weeklong camps. Camps, which are run by Galileo, are grouped under four topics: science, technology, engineering and tinkering, and art and design. New camps this year include Augmented Reality, in which campers develop digital designs that interact with their environment, and Animal Investigators, where campers can work with real animals and discover how their bodies and behaviors help them survive in the wilderness.
Many more options include Kitchen Chemistry, CSI, 3-D Video Game Design, Hollywood Producer: Movie Magic and Biotech: Active Accessories, in which campers create their own wearable fitness tracking device. June 11-Aug. 17. 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 1-4 p.m. or both. Half-day camps: $339 (early bird discounts available before Feb. 28). Some classes require an additional equipment fee. $80 off for taking morning and afternoon classes in the same week. Extended care available for an additional fee. 201 S. Market St., San Jose. 408-294-8324. www.thetech.org/education/summer-camps.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.