By Vikki Ortiz Healy
Eight-year-old Claire Dormanen assumed her role as a summer camper this month in many traditional ways: She wore a comfy T-shirt and shorts, scarfed down a sack lunch and ran frantically to escape elimination during a game of dodgeball.
But Claire also added a new activity to her regular camp schedule this year: computer coding. For three hours on a recent Friday, campers built creatures out of Legos and then wrote computer programs to make them move.
“This is where the world is going,” said Claire’s mother, Audrey Dormanen, of Oak Park, Ill., who enrolled her daughter in the full day sports/coding combination camp at Code Play Learn, an Oak Park business. “It’s embracing technology and embracing what’s going to be core to your life.”
Coding, once reserved for students aspiring to work in the tech industry, has gone mainstream this summer across the Chicago area as several traditional camps have added lessons in computer programming as a new option next to arts and crafts, soccer and rock climbing.
Camp directors say including coding in traditional summer programs gives students much-needed exposure to digital concepts, while meeting demand from parents eager to expose their children to the latest technology and potential careers in the STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematical, fields.
“So many people are so excited about it, it’s like the first thing they ask about on an inquiry call,” said Sara Ferguson, director of the River Forest site for Steve and Kate’s Camp, which added coding studios to all five of its locations across the Chicago area this summer.
But some parenting and digital experts question the push to teach young children coding, at schools and particularly over the summer. They argue that such highly technical lessons are unnecessary at early ages, and that the upcoming generation of kids are already digital natives, even without giving up carefree days in the sun.