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Hands-On Fun while Learning

Children attend LEGO camp in Clifton

Standing, from left, Evan Cater and Cam Meyer explain LEGO building techniques to the young campers.

Standing, from left, Evan Cater and Cam Meyer explain LEGO building techniques to the young campers. Photo by Victoria Ross.

Sure, LEGOs are child’s play—but they’re also much more. And Clifton’s Cam Meyer, 15, recently shared his knowledge of what these colorful building pieces can do during a LEGO camp held in the town’s meeting hall.

“I started building with LEGOs around age four,” he said. “I started by using the instructions, but then realized it was much more fun to break away and just do what you want.”

A rising sophomore at Trinity Christian School in Fairfax, Meyer says LEGOs provide him “a medium of creativity to express my art.” He especially likes constructing spaceships and “cool, sci-fi creations.”

“As I got older, I began using more advanced techniques and figuring out new connections and new ways of using parts,” he said. He also joined other teen and adult LEGO enthusiasts in using Flickr, the photo-sharing Web site, to post his models online.

In addition, Meyer began the nonprofit Junior Brick Builders Assn. to teach his skills to children; and from July 23-27, from 1-4 p.m., he hosted a camp for eight to 12 year olds. Fourteen boys from Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton and Fairfax participated, and Meyer ran the camp with friend and fellow LEGO aficionado, Evan Cater of Arlington.

THEY MET A FEW YEARS AGO at Brickfair, a Washington, D.C., LEGO convention. Both belong to the Washington Metro Area Adult LEGO User Group. And, said Cater, who attends Yorktown High, “We wanted to teach children using LEGOs to think more outside the box.”

“Online, there wasn’t anything for kids to learn new techniques,” explained Meyer. “So I wanted to create a place where they could build and share ideas with each other – because when you’re little, you’re building at home alone and don’t really have anyone to share [your creation] with who’s as passionate about it as you are.”

Tuition for Junior Brick Builders Summer Camp was $160/person. “The money was used to purchase the LEGO sets, plus other costs of putting on the camp,” said Cater. “Each day, the kids did a new LEGO set.”

So, said Meyer, “They each got four LEGO sets worth $80 total, a plastic box to hold them, daily snacks and the overall building experience.”

Every day, the campers did challenges for prizes, such as small LEGO sets. For example, one afternoon, half the children and Meyer competed against the other half and Cater to see which team could construct the strongest bridge. “We wanted our bridges to hold six cans of tomatoes, but we got way past that,” said Cater.

“Our bridges were so strong that we had to drop things on them to finally break them,” said Meyer. “They were about 2 feet wide and even held six-packs of water. The contest ended in a tie and everyone got lollipops.”

Each day, the boys worked with a themed LEGO set, without using the instructions. “The first day, we built cars and raced them down a track,” said Meyer. “The fastest one won a LEGO set.” Cater said they showed the boys Flickr photos of “cool cars to get their creative juices flowing.”

“I was incredibly impressed with how they used particular techniques to make their own cars go fast,” said Meyer. Cater added, “A lot of them were so fast that they beat both of our cars.”

ANOTHER DAY, they all constructed spaceships and voted on which one they thought was the most creative and well-built. Other days, the boys built LEGO robots and dinosaurs. And on the last day of camp, they combined all the sets so the boys could let their imaginations soar and build whatever they wanted.

Meyer said the camp was so successful that they plan to hold it again next summer and might even hold it on weekends during the school year. They planned to have the boys tell them which activities they liked best and thought were the most fun. “I really loved the bridge-building,” said Cater. “It was hands-on and they worked really well as teams.”

“I enjoyed seeing the different models that everyone came up with using the same parts and a limited number of them,” said Meyer. “They were so diverse, and that’s fascinating to see. So even though I’ve been building longer and am more advanced than these kids, I learned from them because they created things I haven’t even thought about.”