My son regularly enjoys anything labeled “STEM,” but my daughter is a bit more hesitant. While she has current aspirations to become an architect and gets lost in LEGOland for hours, she did not think she would enjoy an “engineering-ish” camp like her brother does. She opted instead for tennis camp when her brother will attend NC State’s Engineering Camp at Queens this July. Still, I wanted her to gain exposure to a camp where she could discover how fun STEM topics are –– and where she could see firsthand how capable in STEM learning she is. IDEA Lab Kids summer camp helped me provide that for her.
My family and I first learned about IDEA Lab Kids Ballantyne during Charlotte Shout! StrEATs Festival family night. The staff had a booth, and they were teaching children how to use LED lights to create their own glowing necklaces. After a conversation with the owner and watching my children interact with the project, I was intrigued. When I checked out the summer camp offerings online, I found many my kids would enjoy. IDEA Lab Kids topics run the gamut: drone engineering, coding, culinary arts, entrepreneurship, movie studio production, robotics, visual arts, and more. It would not be difficult to find an exciting, STEAM-centric theme for my daughter.
“Build a Smart Home” camp is the one I selected. Nora came home everyday wanting to return the next day. She even made new friends. Turns out, IDEA Lab Kids was a right fit for her!
During this particular session, the students were put into small teams to design, wire, and program their own miniature smart home using an Arduino microcontroller and foam materials. They learned about breadboarding, the work engineers do, and created fun features like lighting, a thermostat, and even solar panels for their houses. It was hands-on, and the groupwork forced them to collaborate and problem solve together. There was plenty of time to get up and move, as well. My daughter loved when they took a break each day to be active in a space dedicated to that purpose.
I also appreciated that the IDEA Lab Kids camp instructors for my daughter’s session were predominantly female and people of color. Additionally, the composition for her class was a nice blend of male and female campers. Representation matters because, while there has been progress, women are still significantly missing from STEM occupations. In January 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported these findings: “Women made gains – from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers.”
From a parent’s perspective, I found the organization to be well-run and operated in a professional manner. I was also happy to learn how much experience in education Kosal Chea, the owner, brings to the Ballantyne branch. Chea spent almost 20 years in public education as a National Board-Certified teacher, assistant principal, and principal in numerous states. He and his wife Tanisha now call Charlotte home and have young twin sons, so their goal is to provide relevant and quality content for their community’s young people. If you haven’t yet, make sure to check out the many opportunities ranging from summer camp to birthday parties to homeschool learning this summer and during the upcoming school year. I’m positive that you will, like me, be able to find something to spark enthusiasm and curiosity in your children at IDEA Lab Kids Ballantyne.