I just got back from Astro Camp in Idyllwild, California. I went as a chaperone on a class trip with my kids.

Everything you’ve heard about the food is true. Many had warned me, so I came prepared. I won’t harp on it too much except to say that you should get to the salad bar fast. Since the main courses are essentially inedible, you need to get to the very busy salad bar before you end up with lettuce in a soup of cold water and the dregs of the vegetables. Also, at breakfast, the fruit is at the salad bar station, and being largely untouched by the ‘cooks,’ it’s very popular and goes fast.

OK, now that that’s past I’ll move on to the great features of Astro Camp, namely, the classes.

As far as I understand the process, the school selects the classes or segments that the students will participate in during their stay. So I’m really not sure what else is out there, but I’ll give a rundown of what we did. As usual, our school’s amazing teachers really picked interesting, engaging activities for the students.

Soda Bottle Rocket Launch – Using a two liter bottle as the main body, we learned how to build on a nose cone out of clay, and cardboard fins. This activity was in part just a lot of fun, but was also a lesson in several aspects of physics and motion including how heavier objects move slower with the same amount of force and gravity (with calculations to determine the height of the rockets). In addition, this activity gave the more artistic kids a chance to build based on more unique ideas.

Zip Line – Really, all fun. 700 feet of zip line here. I was expecting some physics lesson, but it was just for sheer fun. Maybe there was a little bit of overcoming acrophobia on the platform, but otherwise, it was a blast.

Catwalk – Like the zip line in that it wasn’t about a science lesson, but this one took more nerve than the zip line. It also delivered a bigger sense of accomplishment to the kids. It’s amazing how a completely safe, controlled environment like this can still frighten. I didn’t get a chance to walk it (we ran out of time) but I was definitely a bit scared just looking up there. Some kids scrambled up and practically ran across. Others needed a little convincing and some couldn’t bring themselves to do it. But for those who needed convincing, they were ecstatic and full of pride when it was over.

Gases Class – A great lesson in physics from college, with all the good experiments in one class. We ate frozen potato chips from a liquid nitrogen bath, exploded hydrogen, imploded cans, and used vacuums to do crazy things to marshmallows and shaving cream. Oh – and the frozen balloon was completely surprising. This was a quick overview of the properties of gases in a way that challenge your imagination. Most of the kids will clearly need some more explanation of these events, although our excellent teacher Dave did have a way of describing the salient points with concision.

Beyond those classes, there was an underwater class demonstrating cooperation and non-verbal communication. There was a rock wall climb that relied on trivia facts for access. And there was a night hike complete with time at telescopes trained on amazing views. I’ll never forget the way I saw Saturn that night!