Building a lego tower

Kellen Keys, left, counts the levels of legos on one section of the lego tower at the Kids Legos summer camp taught by Play-well TEKnologies at Clemens Crossing Elementary School. (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun Media Group / July 11, 2014)

LEGOs aren’t just for the playroom. 

This summer, the colorful blocks are being used in Howard County camps as a way to introduce engineering skills to students as young as 4 years old in a new wave of summer camps focusing on science, technology and engineering.

“Many programs use LEGOs as the building block, literally, for instruction in engineering,” says Holly Harden, Teen Programs Manager at Howard County Recreation & Parks. “Participation in these programs can motivate kids to learn math and science concepts by engaging them in real-world engineering problems.”

The emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs is a major element of this year’s summer camp curriculum with more than 40 camps offered on the topics — a number that has doubled over the past two years.

But it’s not just LEGOs. The new camps this year include engineering activities using roller coasters during a theme park field trip, “mad scientist” camps that include assembling a working light saber and even 2-D video game design classes.

And it’s not only the summer camps where county staff have seen a need for science and technology education outside the traditional classroom. Parks & Recreation has significantly increased the number of after-school programs that teach engineering and science principles.

“These extracurricular activities for kids stimulate their interests and expose them to things they might not see during the school year,” said Adam Wienckowski, recreation manager of the early childhood and youth programs for Howard County Parks & Recreation.

And organizers say the increased focus on STEM topics in Howard County Parks & Recreation programming is an attempt to keep up with the need for those to enter into careers focused on the topics.

“Keeping up with national trends and local needs is very important to Recreation & Parks,”

Harden said. “The interest created by exposure of these programs have us the opportunity to bring a great variety of STEM programs forward,” she said.