Just ask Nik Brocchini, now 16, who attended his first summer camp at the Tinkering School in San Francisco at that age. The camp is one of several maker/tinkerer camps in the Bay Area. “Kids don’t often get to do real things,” Brocchini says. “It’s really empowering for kids who have grown up in safe, baby-proofed homes.”
There’s been a surge in such summer programs where kids can create, build, weld and tinker.
Elan Bustos, 11, who learned welding at Camp 510 in Oakland, says he enjoyed making a foot-long race car with turning wheels. “You get to make what you want,” he says. “You get to design the whole thing.”
Camp 510
The goal of this camp is to give kids a chance to use their creative powers. Tinkering, soldering and welding are a big part of that, along with cooking, movement, crafts and music.
Owners Charity Ellis and Corey Weinstein were inspired to start the camp four summers ago when they had children who were camp age. “We didn’t feel there was really a place for them to explore things in the way we’ve tried to set this up,” Ellis says.
Programs are offered for kids ages 6-14.  This summer’s courses include stained glass, mosaics and puppet-making. The younger kids work on three projects during the week, while ages 11-14 deepen their skills by focusing on one project. “We give all of our campers the chance to work with real tools,” Ellis says. “We give them the opportunity to conquer design challenges – to fail and figure it out.”
Ellis and Weinstein seek out talented artists and makers to provide instruction, with the hope that their excitement for their crafts gets the kids excited, too.
Tuition is $420-$460 per week for full-day camp (9 a.m.-3 p.m. with extended care available).
It’s located on the grounds of Park Day School, 360 42nd St., Oakland.  www.camp510.com.
The Crucible
Crucible camps are designed to promote creative expression, reuse of materials and innovative design. “There’s a lot of creative problem solving and opportunities to apply things they learn in the classroom around science and engineering,” says Carla Hall, youth program director.
The most popular summer camp course for kids 12-17 teaches how to make an art bike. That means possibly taking apart three or four steel-framed bikes and reassembling them into something completely new. Some kids have pieced together an adult tricycle or made a bike that’s unusually tall.
Other offerings for teens include welding, blacksmithing, foundry-flame working and robotics. Kids ages 8-11 can try their hand at woodcarving, ceramic sculptures, mixed media work and creating clay critters.
“It’s art for art’s sake,” Hall says. ”
Cost ranges from $240-$690 per week. Camp runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with half-day programs available. Ceramics is least expensive; glassblowing and blacksmithing are most expensive.
It’s located at 1260 Seventh St., Oakland. www.thecrucible.org.  &pagebreaking&Richmond Art Center
Campers ages 12 and up can pick up torches and make glass marbles, beads and pendants. They use saws to etch patterns on metal and can screen print anything from t-shirts to shoes.
Communications Director Teri Gardiner says campers pick up skills in art, science and math. “As with any hands-on class, kids absorb what they’re learning better,” she says. “Nationally we’re seeing the trend toward the maker movement with the Maker Fair being prevalent here in the Bay Area.”
Classes are limited to 12 students. “We talk a lot about safety, and empower kids with safety skills,” Gardiner says. “Kids are pretty responsible when they’re granted equal respect.”
The art center, founded in 1936 by a local artist, has large gallery spaces and studios. It is  located by the library and civic auditorium. Costs are $150 a week for three hours a day or $385 for three weeks. It is located at 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. www.richmondartcenter.org.
Tinkering School San Francisco Camps
 The program doesn’t reveal its projects in advance, preferring to surprise the kids with the week’s theme when they get there.
One theme was “Monster City.” The kids, ages 6-14, made a gigantic monster out of wood and pulleys, and built a city that the monster stampeded through. The reason for the secrecy? “We find that a 7-year-old thinks ‘Monster City’ sounds lame when it’s described in a website,” says Joshua Rothhaas, school manager. “But when they’re in it using a power tool, they love it.”
The idea is for kids to make something spectacular each week. “We always want to make something huge that the kids can ride on, climb on, play in,” Rothhaas says. “We don’t send anything home. At the end of the week, we disassemble it before the kids leave.”
Overnight camp is available for ages 8 and up, and allows campers to associate with youngsters from all over the country and the world.
Costs are $565 a week for day camp (9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. with extended care options available from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) and $1,600 a week for overnight camp.
Tinkering School offers day camp at Brightworks, 1960 Bryant St., San Francisco and overnight camp at Farallone View, 1100 Le Conte Ave., Montara. www.tinkeringschool.com.  
Lisa Renner is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.


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