By Kim Walter
Spots are filling up quickly for the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum's 2013 summer camps.
Mary Braun, museum executive director, said that interested kids and their parents should look into signing up as quickly as possible if they want to secure a spot in one of the camps.
The museum is offering seven week-long camps this summer for community children aged 3 to 14. This year, two are full-day camps, which Braun said would help working parents.
The first camp, Camp Discovery with Mr. Mark, runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24-28.
The camp is for elementary-aged kids.
Braun said the camp is "a hit" with participants, as it touches on a variety of topics including science, arts and crafts. Campers will get to hear special guest presenters and spend two days of the week at Jim Barnett Park in Winchester.
"The camp is a great overall experience because kids get to learn things here at the museum, but also get a few field trips," she said. "It's really rich."
A Young Jedi Training Camp is available during two weeks of the summer. The camp leads participants through an exploration of the world around them, but through the lens of the "Star Wars" universe. Braun said the instructor "dresses for the occasion" and encourages kids to get into the theme.
Participants will build robots, create their own planets and spaceships, make up creatures and discover the "force" within in them through teamwork, decision making and confidence building exercises.
The week will end in an "epic battle," Braun added, but not one with real lightsabers.
Art Out of the Box with Mr. Mark is another popular camp, Braun said.
"Last year, Mr. Mark parked his car right outside the museum and let the kids paint it," she said. The camp runs for a week in mid-July and again at the end of July and into the beginning of August.
Chess Camp with Jim Moyer is also available at the end of July. Braun said it's for children who are just starting to learn how to play, as well as those who are very familiar with the game.
The museum's paleo-curator, Geb Bennett, will lead a week of Paleo Camp in early August. The focus is on fossils and dinosaurs, and Braun said participants will get to embark on two field trips on which they will find their own fossils. Kids also will get a better idea of what a fossil represents and what can be assumed from the findings.
The Discovery Museum has several community partners working with the camps, including the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal. This year, participants of the full-day, week-long EcoBioGeo Camp will spend time learning on-site with scientists at the institute.
The focus of the camp will be on endangered species and worldwide conservation efforts.
Another partnership between the museum and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley has resulted in a new camp - Gander in the Gardens. The program is unique to the on-site Glen Burnie Gardens, Braun said, and will help participants gain an understanding of environmental awareness within this area.
While each camp has an educational element, Braun said it's important that the experience is fun for all involved.
"The thing is, they are summer camps, and kids are out of school, so we definitely want it to be a fun and silly time too," she said.
The main focus of all the camps revolve around the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"We like to say that the camps are more STEAM related, though, because we throw art in there as well," Braun said.
One-day camps are also available for preschool aged children. Braun said parents can request for their children to be put on a waiting list if spots are full for a camp. She said age limits can be negotiated as well.
The camps are open to children in all surrounding counties. For more information, go to www.discoverymuseum.net or call the Discovery Museum at 540-722-2020.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org