ARTS CAMP IS A GREAT CHOICE FOR YOUR KIDS THIS SUMMER—HERE’S WHY

June 13, 2017By kristin

It’s a pretty well known fact that most kids aren’t getting enough physical activity in school; recess is shorter than ever, gym classes are abbreviated and invariably involve a lot of, well, standing around and waiting, and many kids simply don’t have the time to engage in after-school sports (thanks, at least in part, to hours of homework). And if you’re raising kids in a city, as I am, there’s a good chance you don’t have yards for them to run around in or quiet streets for biking. (Though, frankly, not even all suburbs have those, either.)

It makes sense, then, that many parents see summer vacation—and summer camp, specifically—as an opportunity to amend that imbalance, and make up for the lack of running and jumping and swimming and dodge-balling by enrolling their kids in camps that specialize in sports or other physical activities. And this is great! It is absolutely important to ensure that your children have a physical outlet and a means of engaging with their bodies in meaningful ways.

But there’s a pretty good chance that there’s another area in which your kids aren’t getting enough stimulation during the school year: the arts. Just as physical education classes have been reduced in recent years, most kids don’t have significant amounts of arts education in school either. Music and drama classes are frequently non-existent in many public schools, and visual arts classes tend to meet infrequently and offer little in terms of medium diversity (there’s drawing and… more drawing).

The lack of arts education is something that can negatively affect kids in infinite ways. After all, arts education has been shown to benefit everything from brain development to standardized test scores to general motivation and self-esteem. It is, insofar as anything on this planet can be described this way, an objectively good thing. And it’s something our kids are simply not getting enough of.

Arts education has been shown to benefit everything from brain development to standardized test scores to general motivation and self-esteem

Enter: Ballibay Camps. I’ll admit, I didn’t have such a difficult time settling on sending my two sons to a fine and performing arts camp. Neither of my kids are overly interested in competitive sports, and, for them, the amount of physically oriented activity available at Ballibay (swimming, boating, horseback-riding) is enough. But the benefit they get from being able to explore creative pursuits not otherwise easily available to them, is priceless.

My kids have naturally different interests from one another. My younger son has been drawing from a young age and can almost always be found sketching during whatever downtime he has. The elder isn’t naturally inclined toward directing himself toward artistic pursuits, although he has played an instrument for the past five years. But both of them flourish at Ballibay, where they’re encouraged to explore arts of all mediums, from acting to stagecraft and pottery to animation (with so much more in-between), and have branched out to try things that they don't do in the course of their normal at-home lives, like theatre and sewing. 

The effects of arts camp run deeper than just allowing kids to experiment with different creative pursuits (although that is not to be minimized!). In fact, one of the most interesting benefits is definitely that artistic education tends to focus on collaborative effort and is process- rather than goal-oriented. What this means is that my children feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, that they are working with many others, be they fellow campers or counselors or administrators, to create something impactful together. They're also coming into contact with adults who have found a way to work in a creative field, demonstrating that artistic passions don't have to be ancillary pursuits, but can rather be a professional goal. In a world in which so many kids are told that "success" only looks one way, I think it's so important that they are exposed to a reality in which creativity can lead to a career.

Arts education tends to focus on collaborative effort and is process- rather than goal-oriented

While art camp really might not be for every kid (you are probably well aware already if your child is not going to be happy if she doesn't get to spend her summer playing soccer non-stop), what I've found to be so fascinating is how valuable it has been for both my art-focused kid and not-so-art-focused kid, alike. For my younger son who was practically born with a sketchbook in hand, he's had the opportunity to explore different creative mediums and venture into performance. For my other son, who doesn't consider himself very art-oriented in general, the experience has been similarly invaluable because his exposure to so many things he wouldn't otherwise seek out has given him a facility and confidence in areas other than those in which he naturally excels.

In effect, an arts camp like Ballibay can offer kids a new type of freedom, one in which the goals upon which they're usually told to focus are abandoned in favor of (supervised) exploration and experimentation. It's a time of creativity and abandon, a subversion of the normal way of their world, a flip of priorities and an invitation to let their minds and spirits roam. And for parents? It also means some really incredible work to hang on the wall or put on your desk come end of summer.

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD IS READY FOR SLEEPAWAY CAMP?

May 17, 2017By kristin

By the time my 10-year-old son left for his first time at sleepaway camp, where he would be staying for two weeks, I had not yet been apart for him for more than three consecutive nights. For me, the days leading up to his departure were... fraught, to say the least. I worried constantly whether or not I was doing the right thing. Was he going to be able to handle the nights alone? Would he be terribly homesick without his family and friends? Was he, you know, ready?

These questions seem to me now, in retrospect, overly anxious and more the sign of a mother who wasn’t ready—not a son. Because: My son was totally able to handle the nights alone. He had nothing resembling homesickness. And he proved more than ready and, in fact, fully capable of handling the two week experience; wholeheartedly embracing the independence and opportunity to explore new challenges and creative pursuits. (Oh, and the food. He really loved embracing and exploring the food.) But at the time, my many questions didn’t feel like those of an anxiety-addled parent. Rather, they stemmed from a place of genuine concern that I was manifesting that ultimate fear of all parents everywhere: doing the wrong thing for my child.

I was manifesting that ultimate fear of all parents everywhere: doing the wrong thing for my child.

Hmm, okay, maybe this isn’t every parent’s fear, but I bet it’s not an uncommon one, namely, that there’s a small-scale butterfly effect for every action you take as a parent, and thus you could potentially mess up your children’s entire lives by making the wrong choice for them. (Yes, I know how insane I sound, and, yes, I also understand that perhaps I could benefit from the same type of process- rather than goals-oriented experience that Ballibay offers, but that’s not the point right now.)

There is a point though! And that point is that while the fears of whether or not your child can handle camp might very well come from a real place, it’s also really important to ask yourself those questions anyway, and, most of all, to answer them honestly. And that’s just what I did—it’s also what all nervous parents should force themselves to do.

For example: Are you worried about if your child can handle being away at night? Ask yourself how they’ve done on sleepovers in the past. Are they confident in the homes of their friends? Or do they always ask to be picked up early? This is not a question about whether or not your child gets a little nervous before the first day of school or before their first ever sleepover party, because those kinds of nerves are normal, and can be expected before sleepaway camp too.

Rather, focus on how your child actually felt throughout their experience, and whether or not they left that sleepover or the first day of school feeling confident and ready to go for another. Chances are that if your child is at a sleepaway camp appropriate age (and most kids start between the ages of 7 and 10), they’re ready for the camp itself.

You can also help ease any lingering anxieties (theirs and yours) by talking to them about what to expect at the camp. Pore over the website and the Facebook page, point out all the fun activities in which they’ll soon be engaged. This is not only a way to get kids excited, but also to give them appropriate expectations.

Perhaps your child will feel more at ease if they’re attending camp with a sibling or friend? This helped my younger son when he started Ballibay. It was important to him that his older brother was there, but it made it even easier to know that he had a friend waiting for him. If you think this will help your child ease into the experience, talk to their friends’ parents and see if you can arrange something. An important aspect of camp is allowing your kids to make friends outside of their regular social circle, but it’s definitely possible that it will make camp more fun for them if they know at least one person there.

One important thing to remember is not to give your child an easy out.

One important thing to remember is not to give your child an easy out. Don’t make them think sleepaway camp is something they can try for a day and then give up on. Make sure they understand the commitment required and talk them through it, and then while you can and should talk with the camp administrators about any fears you might have, take the advice you’ve given to your kids and focus on the fact that you’ve signed them up to have an incredible adventure and be confident in your decision.

And then just relax. This was, ultimately, what I did after sending my son off with his dad to Ballibay. I reminded myself that, were anything to be wrong, I’d surely be contacted, and just allowed myself to enjoy my own two weeks. And enjoy them I did! It turns out it’s kind of nice to have a couple of weeks sans kids? Who knew? (Everyone knew.)

By the time I drove out to get my son two weeks later, any nerves I felt were ones of excitement. I prepared myself for a tearful reunion, and instead was blown away by the smile of pure joy that spread across his face (it helped that he looked particularly adorable, dressed up in lederhosen as he was playing Kurt in The Sound of Music) and his non-stop talking about what an amazing time he’d had.

Every kid is different, of course, but you can feel confident that if you’ve found the right environment for your prospective camper and made sure to accommodate their needs as best you can, that they will have a good experience. At a certain point you just need to let go—for their sake, and for yours.

THE PRICE WE PAY FOR SUMMER—AND SUMMER CAMP

April 20, 2017By kristin

There are two things that no parent likes to be told how to manage—their kids and their money. And this is sort of funny, really, because are there two things that most of us feel like we have less control over than kids or money? Are there two things we like talking about (read: complaining about) more? No. No, there aren’t.

And when those two things collide, when, for example, something involving our kids costs quite a bit of money, it becomes a thing. It becomes one of those situations in which we hem and haw and wonder if we’re doing what’s right when it comes to both our children and our finances, and almost instinctively bristle against advice from well-meaning friends and family. Because nobody else can possibly understand what we’re going through, right? And, ugh, why can’t these kinds of decisions just be easier—and cheaper—like they undoubtedly were when we were kids??  

I am, of course, talking about summer camp and the way in which its expense weighs heavily—and understandably so—into the decision-making process for parents. More than that, though, I’m also talking about how important it is to, well, talk about these costs and any angst that accompanies them. I think that what many parents risk by privately fretting about the price of summer camp is potentially missing out on realizing summer camp’s actual value, which is tremendous.

A bit about me: I’m a divorced, full-time working mother of two boys, who lives in a not-big-enough apartment in Brooklyn and cuts corners in a variety of different ways. I'm also someone who can’t really imagine not finding a way to send my kids to sleep away camp—and very specifically Ballibay—for a few weeks every summer. I was lucky enough to first be introduced to Ballibay via a silent auction at a charity benefit, during which I won two weeks of art camp for my then ten-year-old son.

I’m not sure who was more excited, me or him. Just kidding, it was totally me. I had always wanted to go to sleep away camp as a kid, but never did. And an arts camp? With drama? And music? And horses? I mean, it was a dream.

Plus, as a working parent during the summer, I was always scrambling to find an adequate day camp for my kids, one which didn’t require me to leave work a couple hours early. Most importantly: one which my kids actually liked.

And the thing about most day camp programs, particularly art-based ones, in cities like New York, is that they’re really expensive too. They also don’t have the benefits of sleep away camp, like, the fact that three meals a day and every other perk imaginable is provided. Plus, you know, sleep away camp meant that my son would actually be, like, sleeping away from home. It would give me a respite from worrying about whether or not his summer was fulfilling and fun, and give me a little time of my own to enjoy to boot.

None of this really would have mattered, of course, if he hadn’t liked camp. If Ballibay hadn’t been the right place for him, if he hadn’t felt stimulated and energized and engaged, then who cares? But the thing is that he didn’t just like it—he loved it. Though it’s now almost six years ago, I can immediately recall the mile-wide grin on his face on the night I came to see him perform as one of the von Trapp children in the end-of-session musical theater night.

Soon, he regaled me with tales of bonfires and dance performances and horses and swimming and card games taught by ultra-cool counselors and the delicious food he ate every day. (Seriously, one of the things my kids miss the most about Ballibay is the incredible camp food; finally not a conceptual oxymoron.) If there had been any doubt that this experience would be anything other than superiorly beneficial for him, that was all wiped away in an instant. He loved it, but he also grew from it; he’d gained an independence and an ineffable maturity in those couple of weeks.

Still, though, in gearing up for the next summer, I was a bit hesitant before registering both my sons for Ballibay. I had no doubts about the camp, but I still had some feelings of guilt, I think. Which, you know, another thing that issues surrounding both money and kids share is guilt. It is almost impossible as a parent not to feel guilty about decisions we make surrounding kids and money. And even those times of feeling no guilt—like when I realized how uncomplicatedly nice it felt to be child-free for a couple of weeks, knowing that my kids were happily occupied—inevitably leads to feeling guilty.

My guilt resided in the fact that I knew there were cheaper sleep away camp options out there, and maybe it would be smarter to explore some of those too. So that’s what we did that second summer; there would be two weeks of camp at Ballibay and two at a Y camp that was about half the cost. Probably it was for the best that we did those two camps back-to-back, because without having that comparison, we wouldn’t really have known that there was, well, no comparison.

While my older son (always a more easy-going kid) found the Y camp to be okay and “totally fine,” my younger son hated it. He didn’t like the inherent competition in every activity, he rebelled against the strictness of the programming, he was bored with the lack of creative options during elective play time. They both couldn’t stand the food.

Ballibay, though, was wholly different. It felt like a true alternative to the typical sleep away camp, and it was one that my kids fully loved. It’s become a part of who they are, really, since it allows them to have a significant amount of time each summer away from home and on their own, in a supportive space that encourages them to direct their own schedules and lives. And while the cost is not insignificant, neither is the experience they’re getting, one which is educational and fulfilling and exploratory and truly self-led in so many more ways than, say, a five-day Disney vacation would be. (And, hey, it’s not even as expensive as that would be, anyway.)

There’s no simple way for any parent when it comes to making big life choices about their kids, or, for that matter, their money. And for some families, sleep away camp—or any camp—simply isn’t an option. But for those who are contemplating it, but just feel doubtful that it’s the right thing to spend money on, I would just advise that they think of it not as a frivolous expense, like trendy new clothes. Think of it, rather, as an ancillary part of our children’s lives, the kind of thing that helps make them who they are and encourages them to develop more deeply as themselves.

There’s a cost on this, for sure—as there is on everything from SAT tutoring to music lessons to buying books—but there’s no way to put an easy value on it, because when I think of what it is that my kids have gained over the last handful of years, the only thing I can think is that it’s all been priceless.