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Sixth-grader Joel Feldmann guides a magnetic car through his handmade obstacle course Thursday morning at Camp Invention, held at Londonderry North Elementary School all this week. The weeklong camp encourages creativity and engineering skills in children entering grades one through six. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

Camp gives kids a taste of the joy of invention

LONDONDERRY -- It's not often children get the chance to take apart their parents' telephones and VCRs, but such behavior is encouraged for one week each summer, when educators from around the region host the popular Camp Invention at North Elementary School.

The day camp program for children entering grades one through six prides itself on offering hands-on, enriching activities that foster interest in technology, science, engineering and mathematics.

Camp director Jan Cunningham, who retired as a Gifted and Talented Program director in the Londonderry School District in 2000, said she's been involved in the program for the past 20 years.

This year, the camp had 61 campers, with most coming from Londonderry and surrounding towns, though a handful came from Massachusetts.

The theme of this year's camp, which began Monday and ends today, is &#';Envision.&#';

Motioning to a roomful of second-graders eagerly ripping apart computer keyboards and tape recorders, Cunningham said she encourages the youngest campers to take things apart and put them back together again.

&#';That's how they really learn how things work,&#'; she said.

One special thing about Camp Invention, Cunningham said, is the fact that nearly all of the campers return in one capacity or another.

&#';We have an amazing staff that returns year after year after year,&#'; Cunningham said. &#';Many of our counselors were once campers themselves.&#';

This year's staff included four certified teachers, four counselors, four counselors in training and a handful of volunteers.

Camp Invention offers something for nearly everybody, from taking a fantasy adventure on the &#';Ci6000 Space Modulator Time Machine,&#'; inventing a balloon-bursting machine and embarking on the fun-filled &#';Megatropolis&#'; exercise, where the kids build miniature amusement parks, farms and highways using recycled cardboard, packaging peanuts and other repurposed objects.

The campers then guide magnetized cars and people through their handmade obstacle courses, letting their imaginations run wild.

As for the inventions themselves, creating them is recycling at its finest, with one classroom dedicated to stockpiling paper towel rolls, plastic milk jugs, rubber bands, empty margarine tubs and other building materials.

At week's end, an &#';Inventors' Showcase&#'; allows the campers to show off their new creations to their parents and siblings.

Since Camp Invention's inception, the program has grown to include over 1,200 school partnerships in 49 states. In 2011, more than 76,000 children participated nationwide.

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April Guilmet may be reached at AGuilmet@newstote.com.

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