Mountain View Voice

News - July 6, 2012

Camp Imagineerz lets kids answer their own questions

by Nick Veronin

Whenever she sees her children struggling — at home or at the summer camp she is leading in Los Altos and Mountain View — Vaibhavi Gala feels the instinctual urge to swoop in and help.

"As a mom, I know that if a child comes up and says I can't do this, the easiest and most spontaneous response is 'let me do it for you,' " Gala says.

That's not the way it is in her household, or at Camp Imagineerz, which will begin a three-week run at Bubb Elementary School on July 9. "We make it a point not to do anything for them."

Camp Imagineerz, which Gala founded last year, works to instill a philosophy known as "design thinking" in all of the children who attend. It is a method of problem-solving that works through a process of trial and error.

The day the Voice visited Gala's camp, which was wrapping up its third and final week at Covington Elementary School in Los Altos, the children had recently completed an "amusement park" — a collection of arcade-style games inspired by the viral YouTube video, "Cain's Arcade."

Instead of giving each group of Imagineerz a discrete set of materials, tools and instructions on what they should build, she simply gave them a cardboard box and access to a wide range of materials, and let the campers decide what they wanted to build and how they wanted to do it.

As the kids ran into problems, counselors might come over to help them work them out in their own heads, but the counselors rarely did any manipulation of the actual project.

"We have a hands-off policy at Camp Imagineerz," Gala explained. "The way we answer a question is by asking another question."

When one of the campers, David Fomin, was having trouble getting his loop-the-loop marble run to work the way he wanted it to, he says counselors helped guide him to figure out a solution. He and his partner got frustrated, David said, "but we never gave up" — and he is clearly proud that he stuck with it.

"We have a lot of 'Yea! I did it!' moments," Gala said, "because the kids have done it themselves and they know it."

Gala's philosophy — that kids must learn to accept failure, dust themselves off and get back up try again — is shared by David's mother, Tatyana Fomin.

It's the first time she has sent her son to the Imagineerz program, and she is happy with the experience.

"Nowadays, in high school and middle school, a lot of things get kind of spoon fed to the kids," Fomin said. "I don't think high school and middle school teaches them independence. I think this camp will help them think for themselves and not depend on their parents so much."

The camp, which ran June 11 through June 29 at Covington, will run a three-week program from July 9 through July 27 at Bubb Elementary School. During the first week of the camp, Imagineerz will build an igloo and play games with ice as part of the "Arctic Adventures" theme; over the course of the second week, "Around the World in a Hot Air Balloon," the campers will build a life-size model of a hot air balloon and make parachutes; and in the final week, "Let's Design an Amusement Park," activities include the construction of marble runs, like the one built by David, and putting together a ferris wheel.

The camp costs $345 a week, and multi-week discounts and sibling discounts ($25) are available, as are cost breaks for referring friends. Normal camp hours run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with extended morning and afternoon care available. More information is available at the Imagineerz website, imagineerz-learning.com.

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