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LaPerche summer program sparks imagination, creativity, problem solving

By Kendra Gravelle

Camp Invention is our name, imagination is our game. We create, we discover, we invent and we’re so clever.

Children’s voices sounded through the cafeteria of Raymond C. LaPerche Elementary School as parents and siblings looked on.

Let’s go, let’s go Great Bluedinis!

The Great Bluedinis stomped and clapped to the tune of We Will Rock You.

Let’s go, let’s go Yellow Ratpatuti!

The Inventors of the Yellow Ratpatuti echoed.

Let’s go, let’s go Green Team!

For the second consecutive year, the elementary school hosted Camp Invention, a week-long day-camp for children in grades one through six. The camp — which is based out of Canton, Ohio and backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame — teaches programing in the fields of mathematics, science, technology and engineering through a series of hands-on activities. The week ended with a showcase, during which the 45 participating campers had the opportunity to show off their inventions.

“We hope through this showcase that you will have gained a deeper understanding of the importance of creative problem solving through prototyping collaboration and keeping an inventor’s log,” Camp Director Laura Zucker, a first grade teacher at Raymond C. LaPerche, addressed the crowd. “The skills your child has learned at camp this week will last a lifetime.”

In the gymnasium, the campers, in their orange tee-shirts and paper hats, scampered about, eagerly showing off musical instruments, bridges, model roads and robots.

Riden, 9, shared his weed whacker, made from a deconstructed DVD player. Touching two wires to a battery, pink and green pipe cleaners would spin round and round.

“They had an item … and they had to take it apart and make something out of it,” said Ashley Nicholson, a camp counselor and senior at Smithfield High School. “They made models to represent what they could invent. Watching them create everything, it’s interesting to see what they come up with. They do some weird things.”

According to Zucker, “take-apart” was hands-down the campers’ favorite activity.

Alex, whose family drove him to Camp Invention from Wrentham, Mass. each day, was eager to show off his car prototype, built from a deconstructed telephone.

“It’s very fast,” Alex said as he struggled to attach the car’s wires to its battery. “I had the right idea and all, except I couldn’t get the wires to attach to the 9-volt battery.”

Suddenly, the car began to spin rapidly in circles.

“And the wheel falls off,” Alex said, having experienced some technical difficulties with his prototype. “It happens every time.”

Alex’s father, Michael, is the head of the Consumer Electronic Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The genes were passed down,” Alex’s mother, Suzanne Bove, said.

Counselor-in-training Braden Dorsey, who will attend Vincent J. Gallagher Middle School this year, said she especially enjoyed assisting campers with “take-apart.”

“I love working with the kids,” she said. “They’re really fun to build stuff with.”

For six-year-old son Jackson, the most exciting part of Camp Invention came when he went “to the first place.”

The first place, Jackson’s mom Joanna Stepka explained, was Epic Park. According to the Camp Invention website, in Epic Park children design tree houses that integrate simple machines, discover the park’s ecological diversity, build prototypes of innovative eco-adventures and create commercials for the chance to be named co-owner of Epic Park.

“They made their own little adventure parks,” said Stepka, who also volunteered at the camp. “He liked making the train. The camp really opened up his mind to thinking about things in new lights and inventing stuff and using things we have around the house for new purposes.”

Zucker explained that each year the camp revolves around a unique curriculum. Last year, the curriculum was “illuminate.” This year, it was “epic.”

Kristen Guilfoyla, whose 8-year-old son Tyler attended the camp, praised the camp for providing an alternative to the usual athletics camps.

“He comes home with all these ideas,” she said. “He’s been excited to go every day — it’s been nice.”

Tony Tomah, director of information technology at Killingly Public Schools in Killingly, Conn., said he attended the showcase for two reasons: to support the school and to support the hard work Zucker had put into the camp. Tomah’s daughter Natalie participated in the program last year and returned this year as a counselor-in-training

For Natalie, a student at Vincent J. Gallagher Middle School, working as a counselor-in-training was an opportunity to gain experience working with children.

“I enjoyed working with the kids because I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” she said. “This gave me a little information.”

She added that she enjoyed helping children work through each activity.

At the end of the showcase, as the campers left Camp Invention for the final time this summer, arms filled with their inventions, they waved good-bye, enthusiastically thanking Zucker for a great week.

Zucker said Camp Invention has received praise from parents and students alike.

“This program is what brings out imagination,” Tomah said. “Some of the things we lose sight of is play time, and play time creates invention. And that’s pretty much what this program is all about.”