MASM Winter Camps entertain and educate

Just because kids are out of school for the holidays doesn’t mean they have to take a break from their education. Students can sharpen their science skills, learn new concepts, and have fun at the Mid-America Science Museum’s Winter Camp programs.

Each daylong camp focuses on a different scientific or technological area for children ages 6 to 12. This year’s themes include Lego Robotics Camp, Paleontology Camp, CSI (Curious Scientific Investigators) Camp, Rocketry Camp, Minecraft Camp, and Legos and Alternative Energy Camp.

The winter camps generally have an attendance of 10 to 12 students (though it is capped at 25) with a fairly even ratio of boys to girls, according to Jeremy Mackey, the current director of education.

Each day of winter camp costs $50 for non-museum members and $45 for museum members. Winter Camps are Dec. 26-28 and resume Jan 2-4. Registration is open for all children ages 6 to 12. Drop off time is 8 a.m. and pickup is 5 p.m. This matches most parents’ work schedules and allows students to stay on a routine similar to their school schedule.

Mackey said making these programs a reality is “really a team effort.” The museum employs three full-time educators and two part-time educators to aid in teaching children key scientific and technological concepts. Each camp is divided between educators based on strengths and expertise.

“When you’re passionate about something, it comes across better,” said Mackey.

The museum plans to utilize one of its newest additions in these programs. The Oaklawn Foundation Dino Trek, which opened this summer, will be a key component of the Paleontology Camp.

“We’ll use Dino Trek to teach the kids all about the processes and conclusions that paleontologists use to make discoveries and justify the conclusions. They’ll learn what it really means to be a paleontologist,” said Mackey. Dino Trek has 18 individual dinosaurs with 12 dioramas. It is the only permanent outdoor dinosaur exhibit in Arkansas.

Mid-America Science Museum offers other children’s programs, as well. There are Summer Camps similar to their winter counterparts. The cap for these programs is also 25, and they are usually filled quickly, so Mackey encourages early registration.

A new program called Science After School will begin Jan. 7. Students K-8 in Lake Hamilton, Lakeside, Mountain Pine, and Hot Springs School Districts will be busing students to and from Mid-America Science Museum until their parents pick them up. Enrollment is currently open and will be open until the cap of 111 students is reached.

Mackey said, “We will hit on the standards that they are covering in school, but we will do it in a way that only Mid-America Science Museum can do it. And that’s through fun and learning.” At a fee of $10 per day, this will be the first after-school program at a museum in the state.

The museum staff underwent four months of extensive training from DHS to be allowed to conduct the program. Soon, the museum will begin construction on a playground for the program’s participants, as stipulated by DHS in the permit issuance for Mid-America.

Despite the challenges, Mackey said, “It’s been rewarding because it’s something different we can do to positively affect the kids in our community.” He said he hopes this and the other programs will result in higher museum attendance.

Mid-America also offers a Girls in STEM program to encourage girls to pursue interests and learning in the fields of science and technology with the hopes of bringing more young women into STEM professions. These events are on the first Saturday of each month, with 20 or so girls in attendance. Enrollment fee is $5 per Girls in STEM event, but for the upcoming program on Jan. 5 the fee is $10.

This will be a particularly special occasion, as the museum has teamed up with the Little Rock Zoo via the Bring the Zoo To You program to bring a penguin to Mid-America. The animal is intended to help illustrate Arctic animal adaptations. Students will be able to meet the penguin and take photos. Enrollment is capped at 50, so early registration is also encouraged for this program.

The camps seem to be a hit with kids. Bryan Norwood, 12, has attended Winter Camps for five years. He said he loves them all, but his favorite camp was Legos Robotics Camp and he is very excited for the Minecraft Camp on Jan. 3. He said he feels that these programs have enabled him to make new friends, as well as improved his performance in science classes at school.

“More kids should come, especially to these winter camps. It’s awesome here. We get to build robots and airplanes, and we can do coding. It’s awesome,” said Norwood.

Not just campers are affected by these programs. Regular student volunteer Krystyna “Kiki” Valdivia, 17, said “Volunteering at these camps has been an important part of my life and deciding my future career. I’ve learned I love working with kids and the creative aspect of it. You’re not always given instructions in life.”

She also shared that she believes all of her experience will help her get a job in the future, hopefully at Mid-America Science Museum itself. She encourages other students to volunteer their time at the museum as well because “It’s a great place for the whole family.”

Local on 12/28/2018


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