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Now that's what I call science
Camp Invention unleashes kids' minds
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Erika Middleton dodges water balloons and sponges thrown by fellow Camp Invention participants at Richmond Hill Middle School on Friday. It was the last leg of an obstacle course the students navigated with racing carts they designed and built during the week. - photo by Photo by Paul Floecker

Ten-year-old Erika Middleton doesn’t want to take time off from learning just because school is out for the summer.

“I really like learning about things because I really do want to get into a good college, and most of the learning I do with my teachers is really fun,” said Middleton, a rising fifth-grader at Carver Elementary School.

Middleton, who talks of attending Harvard University or Stanford University and pursuing a law career, was one of 62 children to participate last week in the third annual Camp Invention at Richmond Hill Middle School. The weeklong camp engaged elementary-school children in fun, hands-on science and technology activities.

RHMS science teacher Wendy Dauphinee has directed all three years of the camp. Each summer, she sees the children’s imaginations run wild.

“It is a lot of fun. They’re really amazing,” Dauphinee said.

Throughout the week, the youngsters designed and constructed prototypes of inventions, using items such as cardboard boxes and duct tape. The campers were allowed to make as many prototypes as they wanted.

“They can look at a toilet-paper roll, an empty container, a couple of beads, and they can put together something in their mind that is a prosthetic arm or something,” Dauphinee said. “They just put together these things that you just don’t even know where they came from.”

One student’s idea would eliminate the need to take clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the dryer. His conceptualized washing machine does that on its own, automatically dropping clothes down into the dryer.

The campers have fun coming up with inventions. The task of creating a new eating implement brought a unique, albeit potentially dangerous, gizmo from one group.

“They used a plastic-straw container, some rubber bands and some chopsticks and created this slingshot fork, and they called it stab-a-fork,” RHMS science teacher and camp instructor Amy Beasley said with a laugh.

To encourage creativity and trial-and-error, some of the camp’s activities came with literally no instructions. One of those was an exercise in electrical circuitry, requiring students to improvise with the assemblage of wires in front of them.

When the circuitry was connected properly, an alarm went off. The first day of camp brought a priceless reaction among a group of first-graders when one of the children set off the alarm.

“The look on their face was, ‘What is that?’” Beasley said. “It took them a minute to realize that, when they connected the circuit, it made the alarm go off. I said, ‘You’re doing it!’

“After that, they take it and run with it,” Beasley continued. “So something that doesn’t have directions to it, they’re able to figure it out.”
The week concluded with campers navigating an obstacle course in freestyle racing carts they designed and built in teams with items such as sleds and box lids. One student rode on the cart while teammates maneuvered it.

“They had to figure out how to turn it, so they could either push it or pull it, and they had to figure out ways to move one kid in this cart through an obstacle course,” said Sean Vandenhouten, a former RHMS teacher who returns to help with the camp.

Each team was allowed to bring one item from home to make part of the cart. Middleton and her teammates Sara Beth Deal and Annabelle Lewis wisely chose their one item — a dolly, enabling them to move smoothly down the hallway and through the obstacle course.

“How smart was that?” Vandenhouten said.

The recurring theme for all the week’s activities was that no answers are wrong. Rather, all answers lead to new possibilities.

“Some of the kids have a little bit of a hard time with that, especially at the beginning, because they think, ‘I’m not doing this right,’” Dauphinee said. “We have to reiterate that there’s no right or wrong — it comes from you and your mind.”

Along with the teachers leading the lessons, local middle- and high-school students helped as camp counselors and leadership interns. The student volunteers earned 40 service hours they can put toward civic organizations in which they participate.

But for leadership intern Hannah Yontz, the most enjoyment came from simply spending time with the children and seeing what would come from their imaginations each day.

“Every kid goes a different direction,” she said.

For more Camp Invention photos, visit

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