For a computer summer camp held at a university, Emagination tries to fit in a good amount of non-computer activities, so kids exercise their limbs and even social skills as they exand their digital expertise.
"We make sure our camp involves plenty of time to get unplugged," said Craig Whiting of Darien, the owner of the company.
"Our tag line is 'Technology learning plus summer camp fun.' Recreation is a critical component of our program. It's one of four periods during the camp day, and it's half of our event programming for overnight campers."
There's plenty of technology involved at an Emagination camp, one of which is starting in Fairfield this summer.
"Our kids spend time in the classroom learning leading-edge technology skills," Whiting said. "They learn to create 3-D animation [...] They can create applications for Apple devices. They can create digital music. They learn how to design video games. We also teach them mechanical skills for robotics. They learn how to build and program robots. They can take programming languages."
All in all, there are about 20 different course offerings at the camp, and students (who range in age from 8 to 17 years old) pick three, which will take up about three quarters of their time at camp, he said.
"But it's all about fun—it's doing it in a fun way," Whiting said.
Swimming, soccer, kickball, capture the flag and Saturdays devoted to outdoor games between counselors and campers helps keep overnight campers occupied on weekends, he said.
"Social development is one of the key things we try to encourage at a tech camp," he said.
Founded in 1982, Emagination was bought by Whiting in 2002. The camp locations have expanded from two locations to the present five—Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and now Connecticut.
The camp at Fairfield University will open for two two-week sessions early this summer, and each session will have between 75 and 200 campers, he said.
Campers can take the train from Darien to Fairfield, where buses will shuttle them to and from the campus, Whiting said. Plenty of foreign students also become overnight campers, he said.
Counselors at the camps are former campers, he said. "We have a leadership program, and we teach them how to teach, and we teach them life skills."
Whiting's three children—Courtney, Jackson and Pierce—all of whom went to summer camp, have been camp counselors for Emagination, he said.
Whiting and his wife, Julie, each grew up in Darien. He lived elsewhere for a while, including Chicago for eight years, before moving back to Darien in 1992. For about 10 years, he commuted into Manhattan to work at his job in finance.
Another enterprise: Darien Library
During an interview with Whiting at Darien Library, the discussion turned to the library itself, and his interviewer extolled the virtues of the library, especially in its present location. Whiting mentioned that he had been on the board of directors when the decision was made to build the new library, which has helped the library to offer services more efficiently to the public.
And then the memory of a recent interview with library Director Louise Berry kicked in. Days before, Berry had mentioned that one of the driving influences behind the decision to raise funds for and build a new library had come from Whiting. He has a strong interest in strategic planning, and got the Library board to start thinking ahead, Berry said. The planning paid off with the new building, she said.
With labor-saving technology such as self-checkout and a machine that collects returned books, Darien Library has been able to increase circulation and visitors while maintaining an essentially flat level of staffing, Berry said.
That same interest in planning and technology is part of what has allowed Whiting to more than double the size of Emagination since he bought it.
Emagination computer camp runs this summer at Fairfield University from June 30 to July 12 and fromi July 14 to July 26. The cost varies, depending on the type of program, but the regular day camp costs $1,495 per two-week session, with che cost increasing to $1,795 for the longer session, running about 12 hours (from 7:30 to 8 a.m. through 7:30 or 7:45 p.m.). For more information about Emagination summer camps, see the company's website.