Space-themed day camp in Harrisburg builds imaginations

Working as a team, Liam Santschi, 9, and Andrew Schmidt, 8, followed the diagrams and instructions to assemble a motorized LEGO robot in early August in Harrisburg Town Hall’s meeting room.

Andrew turned on the motor, and the robot’s arms began moving up and down. Liam’s eyes lit up as its head began spinning.

The boys were attending the Harrisburg Parks and Recreation Star Wars Space Adventures Camp, a three-hour summer camp Aug. 4-8. It was offered by Bricks 4 Kidz to help enhance learning skills, and it had Star Wars/space themed LEGOs with motors for model building.

Nine-year-old Cannon Powell answered questions about Mars and robots as instructor Laura Van Den Berg led a discussion with the 10 boys, ages 5-12, on Aug. 6. Then they started working on the motorized models.

Some participants paired up, but others tackled the task alone. The campers could build a motorized robot or a spin art machine that could be used to draw planets that would then decorate the camp.

Liam and Andrew were the first to complete their robot, and they soon started to experiment with using bigger pieces for the head. They found that the base was sturdy enough to handle larger and larger pieces spinning on top.

“This is getting too big. We need to move it to the ground in case it falls,” Andrew said. Once they had the robot securely on the floor, the pair continued adding pieces to the top and spinning it.

Eventually, the robot could not handle the force of the longer, heavier spinning pieces on top and fell over. The boys erupted in laughter, then tried again.

“The different heads we came up with are awesome,” said Liam.

Tyler Knox, 6, was having trouble with his spin art machine. If he didn’t follow directions exactly, the motorized creations would not work, and Tyler had used the wrong size gear.

Laura Porretta, managing director of Bricks 4 Kidz North Charlotte, came to the rescue. She helped Tyler figure out and correct his mistake, and the machine was up and running quickly.

Porretta said the model building helps children learn to use their fine motor skills and follow precise directions. But “the kids teach us by using different parts and getting different results. They take it to the next level,” she said.

“There you go! Now it’s working,” said 8-year-old Daniel Brinton when he finally got the robot he was working on to move. The first motor he used had a short in the wire. The second motor had his robot’s arms moving to Daniel’s satisfaction.

“I named him Dan Jr.,” he said. He said he had attended six or seven Bricks 4 Kidz programs in the past and plans on going to more.

“I am a LEGO lover,” Daniel said. “I like building with them and own a lot of my own kits. I want to work at the LEGO company one day.”

When the time came to tear down the creations and put away the pieces, Andrew realized that he could add four identical pieces to the robot’s head as spinning blades and turn it into a helicopter.

Porretta, a Harrisburg resident, said Bricks 4 Kidz North Charlotte opened in May 2013. Besides summer camps, it provides one-hour after-school educational programs, with classes in 18 Cabarrus County locations, including preschools, elementary schools, and Harrisburg and Kannapolis parks and recreation venues.

The programs use motors and LEGOs with lessons to inspire children to learn while using their imagination.

On other days, this summer camp included more model building, along with games and crafts that followed the space theme. “Simon Says” became “Darth Vader Says,” and the boys decorated light sabers: pool noodles covered with silver duct tape.