Camp Invention Hands-on Summer STEM Program Goes Virtual, Bringing Creativity and Innovation to Kids — and Their Families
Receive important news and analysis about education directly in your email inbox. Sign up now for ’s daily newsletter.
The Camp Invention program from the National Inventors Hall of Fame has found innovative ways to deliver content during the pandemic. They now offer both in-person and virtual camps, reaching not just K-8 students, but entire families through the Camp Invention at Home program.
The hall of fame, which started in 1973 with a museum in Virginia, focuses on STEM education for young people. They collaborate with their annual honorees to develop curriculum for in-person classes, after-school programs, and summer camps in all 50 states. When the pandemic hit in 2020, they wanted to provide online options for their 30-year-old Camp Invention, allowing students to collaborate with virtual campers or work with their own families.
Jayme Cellitioci, the creativity and innovation strategist for the hall of fame, emphasizes the positive side of these out-of-school STEM experiences. She believes that they allow parents to engage with their children in a playful way, encouraging risk-taking and building confidence.
This summer, over 132,000 students participated in Camp Invention, with most choosing in-person camps and others opting for a week-long virtual experience. At-home students receive kits tailored to their region and age, containing all the necessary materials to build a series of inventions. Daily activities include a live kickoff session led by an instructor, as well as collaboration with other students to socialize and experiment with their inventions. Families who cannot participate live can watch step-by-step instructional videos. The program also offers an unplugged version that does not require a computer.
Nayana Mallikarjuna, a parent from Dallas, praises the opportunities for interaction and sharing in the virtual setting. It helped her son socialize and stay engaged while learning. Other popular at-home activities include an Open Mic program where children explore the inside of a microphone and create their own invention, and a line-tracing robot that turns the home into a robot laboratory.
The At Home version of the camp aims to create an immersive experience with the provided kit, including a maker mat, a toolbelt with various equipment, a pegboard for hanging extra parts, and inventor logs for tracking ideas and progress. The focus remains on hands-on inventing, with the computer serving as a communication tool.
The goal was to provide kids with a successful camp experience that didn’t require constant parental involvement, while still welcoming families. The program empowers parents to join the learning process and build their own STEM confidence. Feedback from families has been overwhelmingly positive, with parents appreciating the behind-the-scenes look and gaining confidence in facilitating these learning experiences, regardless of their knowledge or experience in STEM.
"My children both have additional needs that would typically pose challenges in an in-person camp," she explains. "Being able to log in from the comfort of our own home gave us more control over sensory issues that may arise in an in-person program." The virtual setting empowered her children to confidently interact with fellow students and the instructor while sharing their inventive ideas.
"Lauren and Zander thoroughly enjoyed engaging in hands-on activities that pushed their thinking beyond their usual boundaries," she adds. "Lauren felt a great sense of pride in creating her own inventions, while Zander loved using his hands and tools from his toolbelt to construct projects that benefit the environment."
Mallikarjuna reveals that her son had previously attended a physical camp of the same nature, therefore, the virtual option provided him with a platform to unleash his imagination and tap into his creativity. "As a working mother, I wanted my son to be engaged, learn, and interact with other kids, even in a virtual setting," she expresses. "It was a fun and innovative experience for him."
The at-home program will continue until the end of August, with virtual camps available for the weeks of August 9th, 16th, and 23rd. Parents can either opt for in-person camps or provide their children with a virtual experience, as there are still available spots for the final three weeks of the schedule.
Looking ahead, virtual experiences are likely to remain a part of their offerings in some form, says Cellitioci. "I believe it has significantly expanded our capacity and presented us with new opportunities."