Lifestyle: Spotlights

Innovators Camp

Connecting technology and nature
By Rachel Bosworth - May 9, 2019

Camping, hiking, fishing, and the usual suspect activities associated with summer camp don’t resonate for all kids. While this may come as a surprise to those that grew up during simpler times when countless hours were spent outdoors instead of in front of screens, for many parents it can be a challenge finding a place that their tech-loving children may enjoy. Finding the connection between technology, nature, and hands-on learning, Innovators Camp, which launched in summer 2018, offers campers a fun and engaging way to participate in this summer ritual through a STEAM-based curriculum that still gets them outdoors.

The idea behind the camp started by Lulu Keszler and her husband Brendan Manley was to teach children about technology and how to use it in a changing world where these skills become more valuable every day. Using technology responsibly, how to incorporate it into other aspects of life, and also how to disconnect are some of the key focuses of the camp. Through hands-on learning projects, topics covered include computer programming, 3D printing, drones, virtual reality, and robotics. Educators also do other hands-on activities like farming, gardening, woodworking, and metal working. Wellness activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, as well as art, are essential parts of the program.

“Everything is really project-based,” explains Keszler, who is also a licensed real estate salesperson with Douglas Elliman. “The kids are learning but we want it to be fun. They’re in camp, not school. We have the kids work on projects that at the end of the week when they’ve completed them, they’re proud and can take ownership.”

Each week has a different focus, making the camp appealing for kids that want to come back more than once to try something new. Working in groups, campers participate in various projects like computer building, making music, art projects, and more. Workshop leaders guide the process as the kids are allowed to learn and lead. With computers, for example, they can learn where cables go and be in charge of the specifics, creating a fun project that promotes learning through doing.

Keszler and Manley, who has a background in software engineering, are raising their young children in the Hamptons and have found there are not many educational opportunities along the lines of what they aim to achieve. It’s not just about teaching children to use technology, but teaching them to understand it. The response from both campers and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. The pilot program, which began last summer, ended up becoming larger than they had anticipated.

“With my background in tech it’s something I’m very interested in and I know how important it is to expose kids early to understand technology past the consumer level,” Manley shares. “We also think the wellness, mindfulness, and creative side is very important. We have a lot of kids who gravitate naturally towards technology at the expense of not focusing on more creative projects and just being kids and enjoying nature.”

Woodworking was a surprising hit among campers, so much so that it’s been incorporated into each week. For the more creative types that were not as much into technology, 3D printing and art projects were amazing opportunities. The camp’s location at Nova’s Ark Project in Bridgehampton has been critical in helping kids get outside and unplugged. An important balance is found.

With a diverse curriculum that appeals to many audiences, campers leave feeling empowered. “When people hear tech camp, they think kids are on iPads all day,” Keszler explains. “But we keep them engaged. They still want to do things without tech, too, and we actually lessen up screen time.”

Camp begins for 5 to 13-year-olds on July 1.

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