Free YouthSpark Summer Camps for Kids – Sign Up Today

By Elisa Willman, Senior Marketing Communications Manager, Microsoft Citizenship

It’s summer vacation. My eight year old has already been to the zoo, the park, the beach and the mall. She has started her summer reading program, built forts, organized play-dates and watched one too many episodes of Phineas & Pherb. But, in a few short days, she has gone from enjoying carefree days and lounging in her PJs until 10 a.m. to picking fights with her brother and announcing she is bored…by 8 a.m.

Enter YouthSpark Summer Camps. During the summer, Microsoft retail stores across the country become interactive, hands-on technology classrooms where children learn by doing. The camps, designed for kids age 8-13, offer everything from video game design to digital photography to movie making to storytelling. And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. The two-hour camps are free!

As a busy mom who embraces the idea of lazy summer days, but also wants to be sure to include some educational opportunities in the summer fun, I couldn’t pass up the Digital Movie Madness camp at my local Microsoft store. Leala was happy to take on the world of movie making and to learn how to create a story, write a script, and shoot and edit her own film and I was excited to have her engaged in a learning activity.

The other moms I talked to (caregivers stay in store during the camps), chose the camp for similar reasons. Eela Nair, whose two daughters participated, said that it was unique to find something like the YouthSpark Summer Camps. “Every summer, they participate in sports camps. We were looking for something with a tech and science component. There just aren’t that many opportunities out there like this.” Though the Nair family lives more than 30 minutes from the Microsoft store, Eela said the drive was worth it. “You don’t mind travelling for your kids if you know it’s going to be valuable.”

From left to right: Arshisha, Anjinee, Leala

The YouthSpark Summer Camps are taught by enthusiastic Microsoft employees who make learning technology fun. They provided a comprehensive handbook with valuable resources and also guided the campers through a series of activities to prepare to them as film makers. However, the real fun started when they set the students loose with cameras in the store. It was amazing to watch how comfortable they were with the technology and hearing the creative plots they were developing. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard my daughter and her group enacting a scene taking place at a Microsoft store, on Jupiter.

“We get them thinking about what happens behind the scenes and about how things are made,” said Jared Hauser, the Microsoft employee who taught the course. “They then put their creativity to work with Movie Maker – learning how to edit and create transitions and sound-effects. They also use PowerPoint to create simple animations. It’s amazing what was created with just a few simple tools. An animated space background for a movie set on Jupiter? No problem.”

From left to right: Christopher, Tyler, and Jared

Leala had so much fun at the Digital Movie Madness Camp that I don’t think she even realized how much she was learning. She may not be the next Sofia Coppola (yet!), but she left camp excited about the possibilities and with a new comfort level in working with Microsoft technology. Success!

At the same time, across town at another Microsoft store, a dozen campers were learning how to code video games at the YouthSpark Game Masters Camp. They used Kodu Game Lab, a free game-design tool that enables kids to easily build their own video games within minutes by dragging and dropping images and simple icon. Based on our awesome experience with the Movie Madness Camp, we’ll be signing up for Game Masters next!

It’s not too late to register for a YouthSpark Summer Camp near you. There are spots available in most stores. Find out more.

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