For four Winfield boys, a Wednesday trip to a swamp took them to familiar territory: their school.
As part of a camp that drew 5- to 12-year-olds from throughout DuPage County, a classroom at Winfield Central School was converted into a "swamp" by tossing several items onto the floor.
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The children's charge? Find a way across the swamp by using recyclable materials and working together.
It was a task Caleb O'Neil said was his favorite part of a weeklong camp at the school because it allowed him to be creative.
"We got to make our own space clothes that protected us from the atmosphere," said Caleb, 10, who will enter fifth grade at the school in the fall.
Caleb was among the 41 students to attend Camp Invention, a weeklong program that focuses on science and math. Students are broken up into age groups and take turns tackling problems using different aspects of math and science to find the solutions. The camp ends Friday.
Its director, Taylor Alperin, said the goal is to foster children's creativity while also teaching them a few things about science and math.
"It's a safe learning environment and they can be as creative as they want," said Alperin, a teacher's aide at the school. "It's mind-blowing hearing what even the smallest kids will say. The creativity is awesome."
Alperin reached out to school districts throughout the county in February and said they easily met the 35-student minimum that Camp Invention's national program requires. All expenses are paid for through Camp Invention, aside from parents' registration fees.
Alperin said she hopes to continue the first-year program in Winfield next year.
As Caleb and three other Winfield students, Jimmy Klank, Jack Gillespie and Josh Bloomfield, all 11, took a break from their creative modes, they talked about the highlights at the camp.
While Jimmy said he enjoys working with tools and preferred the camp's Edison workshop, which allowed them to break down electronic equipment, Jack said he enjoyed working in teams to perfect a foam tube roller coaster.
And the peak of the camp for Josh was working his way through the imaginary swamp.
"I like creating stuff and am really into science fiction," he said.
Kimber Knudsen said her favorite part of the camp happened when a group of 5- and 6-year-olds completed their roller coaster and screamed excitedly. But the sixth-grade teacher from Yorkville said watching the creative process develop, especially when the kids learn hands-on about centripetal force, taught her a few things she might take back to her classroom.
"It opened my eyes to how much they learn when they build stuff," she said. "You see a difference between a lecture and swinging a bucket of water above their heads. It's amazing to me how extremely bright they are."