Apple Camp: Free summer fun for kids!

Apple Camp is a program Apple Retail has been offering during the summer months. Sessions are offered weekly and are open to kids ages 8 to 12. Their goal is to help introduce kids to new ways they can express their creativity—and themselves—using devices like the iPad and Mac, and apps like iMovie and GarageBand. Best of all, Apple Camp is offered absolutely free.

This year Apple Camp is offering two tracks: Stories in Motion with iMovie, and Interactive Storytelling with iBooks. Each track spans three days and lasts 90 minutes a day. The first two days are spent learning, the last day showcasing what's been learned. Apple handles all the organization and staffing, and makes the hardware and software available to all the kids. Again, absolutely free.

It's part of the overall value Apple offers not only existing customers but potential customers. It's as much a commitment to the present as it is an investment in the future. Apple doesn't just sell hardware—it sells an experience, and Apple Camp is just one example of that.

Both my godkids decided they wanted to try it out this year, so I spoke with Apple and went with them to the iMovie camp to learn more about it.

Stories + Soundtracks

Apple Camp Day One

We arrived for the first day of Apple Camp a few minutes early. The concierge at the front directed us to one of the tables at the back where personal setup and similar services are typically provided. A half-dozen or so staff members were setting up there, each in a bright green Apple Camp shirt.

The table filled up quickly. The camp was booked solid. There was a great mix of kids as well, from 8 to 12, and plenty of both boys and girls in the mix.

As each child arrived, they were given an Apple Store bag that contained the same shirt. Green, it had the Apple Camp logo on the front and "Creative creatures wanted" on the back.

The kids loved that. It not only made the easy to identify in case anyone wondered off, but it made them feel special and part of the experience. It set things up immediately as a team that would work and succeed together.

Also in the bag was a pair of Apple earbuds. Apple may let everyone who comes into the store try out the Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but earbuds aren't something they want anyone to have to pass around. So, generously, each child got his or her own.

Lastly, there was a badge for each child, so they everyone could know everyone else's name and identify and get to know each other better. The camp staff was incredibly attentive. Moving around, talking with all the kids, answering questions from the parents, and making sure everyone was ready to go.

Once everyone was settled, the camp staff handed out paper and pens—even digital work has to start somewhere! They were storyboards: panels like you see in comics, where you can plan out you opening scenes, your middle acts, and your ending. The kids started drawing immediately.

The storyboards would serve as guides for the homework. Each kid had to shoot video to turn the story into a movie. Some had their own iPads or iPods touch, others planned on borrowing a family members iPad, iPhone, or other device, and still others had good old fashioned video cameras they planned to use.

That done, it was time for GarageBand on iPad. One of my godkids didn't have it downloaded yet, so the camp staff helped him get it installed. The other had filled up his iPad with Apple Music, so we helped him remove it—after a quick explanation of the miracles of cloud-based streaming.

The rest of the time was spent showing everyone the basics of GarageBand and helping get a soundtrack started for their movies. Because GarageBand has such excellent virtual instruments and makes it easy to add music, even those encountering it for the first time were able to start something they were happy with. Again, the camp staff was always there, always attentive, and always helpful. Because there was such a great ratio of staffers to kids—about 1:4—everyone was able to make progress with their soundtracks. Finishing them, of course, was more homework.

The 90 minutes passed quickly. When they were done, my godkids thanked everyone and headed out, they began to plan. Both kids were excited enough that they enlisted their parents and had them helping make puppets and collect costumes in no time.

Their creative fuel had been sparked.

Making movies on the Mac

Apple Camp Day Two

The second day of Apple Camp moved to the other side of the store, and to the Mac. The kids had used their storyboards to shoot their videos, and GarageBand to make some music, and now it was time to import it all into iMovie for OS X.

Macs had been set up on the tables, each with one of the kids names on them. They all quickly found their places. Again there were a multitude of Apple Camp staff available to help so, even though each one had to connect to a Mac and import their videos, it didn't take long.

Once everything was imported and ready, the kids were shown how to assemble their clips and add their music. For the visual learners, there were cinema displays set up so they could see how everything worked. For the audio learners, step by step instructions were given. For those who learned best by doing, the many staffers circulated and helped throughout.

Here's where the camp staff's skills as animators and facilitators came into play. iMovie for Mac is incredibly easy to use as far as video editing apps go, but for young kids their impatience and expectations can sometimes lead to frustration. The camp staff kept them engaged, however, and motivated. Kid by kid, step by step, they helped each one start to mold the movie they wanted.

The hour and half again passed quickly, and some of the kids didn't want to stop. Others wanted to race home to work on their own movies.


Apple Camp Day Three

Day three was the Apple Camp Film Festival. Apple runs two sessions of each camp during the same week and, on Friday, they both come together so everyone can watch all the movies all the kids have made. That includes parents, siblings, and friends. For the next 90 minutes, the Genius Bar moves to a side table, and the kids take center stage.

The store was packed. The kids filled the tables in front of the Genius Bar, and everyone else gathered around them. The videos played one after the other on the big screens at the back, each framed with the child's name. The camp staff announced each one and asked the child who made it what the title was and what it was about.

The videos themselves ran the gamut. Some were silent, some had GarageBand crafted tracks, and others were set to pop music. Several involved Minecraft, both gameplay and a fantasy involving going into the game. There were detective stories and sword and sorcery epics. There were puppets and costumers. And yes, there were dogs and cats.

At the end, each kid's name was called and they went up to get their diploma. Signed by the camp staff, it bookended the t-shirt to provide a second keepsake. It was also wrapped in a bracelet that doubled as a USB drive—containing a copy of the kid's movie.

Everyone there cheered every movie and every child, and the camp staff had high fives—and high tens—ready everyone as well.

And here they are!

Apple Camp Movies

For kids of all ages

Apple Store Experience

If it sounds like I'm being effusive here, it's because I am. The only place I've seen my godkids have as much fun is the Lego Store, and that's when Star Wars or Marvel toys were involved. This was educational. What's more, Apple Camp is only one of the programs that run at Apple Retail. They also offer field trips for classes during the school year as well. For adults, there are introductory classes for OS X and iOS apps, and at the bigger school, pro classes. All for free. (I've heard from several professionals who got their first taste of editing from just those workshops.)

There's also setup assistance when you buy a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch. For an additional fee, there's One on One personal instruction over the course of a year. And for businesses there's a wealth of specialized assistance available as well.

I've had the chance to visit numerous Apple Stores over the years, and the sense of community is universal. They not only provide these camps and courses, but they bring artists and developers in to share their work, and they care deeply about doing outreach for accessibility, senior citizens, and other groups as well.

You can buy electronics almost anywhere these days, and you can buy Apple products many places now as well. Yet one place continues to push the boundaries of the retail experience and to provide value beyond just hardware and software.

That's the Apple Store.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.