Camp Invention inspires kids to invent, tackle science
WESTPORT — Each summer, several of Staples High School’s classrooms are filled with duct tape, boxes and more “upcycled” materials for a camp focused on science and creativity.
Camp Invention, a K-6 STEM program run across the country by the National Inventors Hall of Fame since 1990, came to Westport eight years ago when Phaedra Taft moved here and launched the area’s first chapter. It has grown popular enough to hold two sessions of the week long camp in Westport every year and now camps have sprung up in Fairfield, Wilton and Weston.
“Spreading the word and getting kids to feel comfortable doing science and enjoying science,” said Taft, a teacher at Long Lots and Greens Farms elementary schools. “We have science in our day but we can’t do the kind of things we do at Camp Invention because you have a specific curriculum that you have to get through. This kind of gets the kids who are engineering and science-y thinking creatively.”
The hands-on program — launched by the hall of fame in 1990 — asks campers to think creatively and innovate and includes encouraging video messages from hall of fame members, as well as a visit from a local inventor. Leonard Flom, a Fairfield ophthalmologist and hall of fame inductee who co-invented the iris recognition system, has visited the camp for several years.
“That’s a really big deal for the kids,” Taft said. “This is a real inventor and he invented something.”
In other activities, like “duct tape billionaire,” campers craft an invention out of tape and are given fake money to purchase add-ons such as zippers or Velcro. The activity intends to teach an entrepreneurial spirit and product design.
The activity is a favorite of Westporters Julian Garfield, 9, and Zoe Alpert, 10. Garfield crafted a duct tape tube and balls to use with it this week, while Alpert created a wallet.
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“You can do anything with it,” Alpert said. “That’s what I love about it — it’s so creative.”
The students are among 115 campers attending this week. Ninety are enrolled for next week’s session.
Taft hopes campers learn “perseverance and grit and working with others and how important teamwork is.” She added, “And any idea you can try, you can bring to life.” She recounted that inventors often tell kids in their videos that they no one thought what they had done was possible until they had their idea and brought it to fruition.
Taft, who has students among the campers each year, believes the program can give student confidence in STEM in a relaxed, fun setting and that it builds upon education from the school year.
“It taps into something kids don’t always get during the school day, so it gives them this outlet in the summer and we have kids who come back year after year after year,” she said.
Camper Gaia Hatsiandrou said the best part of camp was getting to make any creation she desired and her favorite project so far was making a castle.
“I think it’s been the greatest I ever had in my life,” the 7-year-old Westporter said of her camp experience.