TAMPA - It's easy to remember Legos. Kids continue to play with them for days at a time - and parents continue to step on the ones that aren't put away at the end of the day.
But things have changed. At the Carrollwood Lego Robotics Summer Camp, held at rotating locations in the Carrollwood area, computers are now as important as the blocks themselves. Toni Klopfenstein is the co-owner of Creative Bricking, a company that teaches robotics with Legos to kids throughout Hillsborough County. It is using today's technology to help build not only buildings and skyscrapers but everything from cars to amusement parks, with Legos.
"Kids can operate their Lego projects through the use of the computer," Klopfenstein said. "Kids can do almost everything, even things that adults don't really understand."
On a recent day when the kids were inside thanks to a thunderstorm, their brains were thinking outside the box. It was amusement park week and the kids, ranging from first- through seventh-graders, were working on their amusement park that featured a computer-programmed Lego car, a funhouse with a motor, spinning tops that worked through computer-generated signals, a robotic dunk tank, and games that customers can play. There was even a Lego Port-O-Potty.
The camp runs most weeks throughout the summer and lasts four days, but many of the kids come back for more. There is a different project every week, and, with about 20 students per class, everyone gets a true hands-on experience.
"Some of the projects are easy and some of them aren't," Klopfenstein said. "We are able to teach that the camp is only secondary. We reinforce lessons in life. It makes them feel good to see what they have done."
Riley Bilchik, a seventh grader at Farnell Middle School, said he is learning about a lot more than robotics.
"We are learning how to be creative," Riley said. "It is a fun way to let your imagination go crazy."
Riley is one of the kids working on the dunk tank. The kids have designed a motion sensor that allows the Legos to "know" when someone, another Lego figure created by the kids, needs to be dunked.
If that sounds complicated, you are not a middle-schooler. The kids at the camp are well-versed in computers and look at linking them to Lego's as second-nature.
"We can make airplanes, cars or almost anything," said fourth-grader Cole Klopfenstein. "We are always coming up with something new."
The camp culminates with a display on the final day of camp for parents and friends. After just two days, the amusement park was coming along just fine.
The camp isn't just about sitting inside staring at a computer. There's plenty of outdoor time.
"You can't let the kids sit inside all day," Klopfenstein said. "We let them outside, give them snacks. We are looking for their creativity and the kids love doing it."
Parents can register their kids for a week at the summer camp by calling 784-5711. Camps are located throughout the county.