Letters from Apple Camp

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I’m tempted to channel Allan Sherman (of “Camp Granada” fame ) but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that I’ve returned from Apple Camp with my kids—they spent two days getting some training on how to use Apple’s iLife applications.

This is the fourth year Apple has done Apple Camp, and an Apple representative tells me that about 14,000 kids have registered for the program this year alone. Organized as two-and-a-half hour sessions and taking place at almost every Apple retail store, the program provides kids ages 8 to 12 with in-depth training on Apple’s iApps—and conveniently holds their parents hostage in the store for the duration. More on that in a bit.

Apple offers sessions in movie-making using iMovie, music via GarageBand, Web page creation thanks to iLife 06’s new addition, iWeb, and podcasting. Each family is allowed to sign up their kids for two sessions, and this year my older son and my daughter opted for the Movie Workshop and iWeb, which were held at our closest store—the Derby Street location in Hingham, Mass., on a Wednesday and Thursday morning in mid-July.

This is the second time I’ve been exposed to Apple Camp. Last year, my older son, who turns 11 at the end of this month, expressed an interest in learning how to make movies on his Mac, so we signed up for the Movie Workshop at what was then the closest location—the CambridgeSide Galleria store in Cambridge, Mass. Since then he’s gotten heavily involved in video production thanks to the local 4H club and a community cable television station. And Apple has expanded its Greater Boston area retail store locations southward, which makes it more convenient for us.

My 9-year-old daughter decided she, too, wanted to do Apple Camp, so I signed her up as well. Our 6-year-old son isn’t old enough, but he came with me anyway and played on the iMacs in the kid’s section of the store while his brother and sister filled their heads with Apple knowledge.

It’s an awesome deal for the kids. Apple Store staff is friendly, helpful, and engaging, giving pretty high-quality training. And the kids get t-shirts, camp stickers, “field notebooks” and copies of their projects on disc—not bad given that all this is free.

My kids’ gears are already spinning with the lubrication of this new found knowledge—they’re planning on shooting a video of our beloved cat, then setting him up with his own Web pages, which I think is a fabulous idea.

Now, as I noted earlier, if your kids are under 14, Apple requires you to stay in the store. I can understand why: They don’t want the liability involved of having a kid—especially a younger one—in a public place, unsupervised. And it makes a lot of sense.

But there’s an ancillary benefit, too. Each session is two and a half hours long. And parents are bound to get bored. And shop.

That’s what I did.

Well, I worked for a little while. The free Wi-Fi access is certainly a bonus—I grabbed a stool at the Genius Bar (this location, like most of Apple’s newer stores, lacks a theater), opened my cell phone and got some work done. Another fellow, a graphic designer who lived locally and whose daughter was at the workshop, did the same.

After a while, though, the novelty wore off and I went wandering up and down the aisles, looking for new gadgets to entertain myself with. I noticed that several other parents had the same idea. They’d gone from shadowing their kids to playing with the display Macs, asking the Geniuses or the other store staff questions, or browsing the iPod accessories, software and other gear that was stacked up on the shelves.

For me, I bought a Family Pack of iLife ‘06—it’s a bargain at $99, because you can install it on up to five machines (the single-user license is $79). Now my wife and kids each have an up to date copy of iLife on their Macs. Hey, it’s not a new MacBook Pro, but at least Apple got something out of the deal. And I saw a couple of the other parents walk out with bags in hand, too.

Oh, and the cat’s learning to hate it when he sees one of the kids holding the video camera.

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