Why Parents are Pushing Back Against Tech Summer Camps

Too much screen time?

Key Takeaways

  • An increasing number of summer camps are teaching kids how to code and other tech skills. 
  • Some parents say they would prefer their children to be doing outdoor activities rather than spending time on screens. 
  • Most tech summer camps are fee-based, which could leave behind children from low-income families.
School kids working on robotics design and programming.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Summer camps that teach coding skills are booming, but some parents think that kids spending more time in front of computer screens is a bad idea. 

At least 447 tech-oriented summer camps opened across 48 states in the US this year, according to a recent report from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. The camps sell themselves as a way to prepare kids for careers in computer science, however not all parents are enthused about the trend. 

"I do believe that children would be better off indulging in more sporty activities outside as physical health is also an important aspect of life," Elizabeth Hicks, a mother of two preschoolers and co-founder of parenting website Parenting Nerd, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Coding in summer camps will only cause exhaustion and ruin their chances of having a fun summer."

S’Mores and Keyboards

Tech summer camps are primarily held indoors. Campers study programming languages, practice coding through video games like Minecraft and Roblox, or learn computer science using toys, and even become familiar with artificial intelligence (AI).

"This early exposure to AI applications, concepts, and uses will help cultivate a domestic pool of AI talent, in addition to producing more informed users and consumers of AI," according to the report. 

The camps aren’t distributed evenly across the country, however. The report says that 53% of these camps are concentrated in just eight states: California, New York, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Washington, and Virginia.

Cost is also a factor. AI summer camps are primarily offered by for-profit organizations, and 49% cost more than $750 per student. Just 10% of the AI and AI-related camps are free, and these are offered mainly by universities and non-profit organizations.

High school students are the largest target audience for these camps, but more than half target middle and elementary school students, as well.

AI for Tots

Coding camps can offer students an advantage in their future careers, some industry experts say. 

"There should be a choice and it is up to your child. In the end, it is about supporting your children's interests, which may change come the following summer."

"We are embarking on a new digital world where software-building skills are becoming synonymous with fundamental skills like mathematics," Sameer Maskey, the CEO of AI education company Fusemachines, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Programming knowledge has become so integral to the digital world that even if you do not intend to make a living as a software engineer, it is an important skill to have."

Maskey said kids should start learning to code as early as elementary school. 

"The best way for the kids to learn coding early on is to engage in a gamified process—one where kids partake in the process of coding similar to how they would create a game during playtime," he added. 

Summer camps are a great way for kids to learn coding, Mark Evans, who runs the camp consulting company Summer Camp Hub, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Mainly because during this time, they don't have to worry about other things like school work and can just focus on learning to code. This makes it much easier for kids to learn and focus on it." 

Many summer camps offer a mixture of both coding lessons and traditional camp activities. "Kids receive classes in coding but also participate in traditional camp games to keep things fun and interesting," Evans said. 

Students coding the program for a robot using a laptop computer.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Some parents have mixed feelings about the coding trend in camps. 

Leo Young, who runs the Optimized Family parenting website, has a young son that learned how to code over the summer. 

"Now being very young, I was hesitant to send him on something I thought was complex, but I also didn't want to be the parent who discouraged my child from attempting something new," he told Lifewire in an email interview.

"There should be a choice and it is up to your child. In the end, it is about supporting your children's interests, which may change come the following summer."

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