Back to Ballibay: Our Second Year Returners

March 14, 2024By Annie Yamamoto

"This is a place where I can show up in the world without having to apologize for how I’m showing up."

Though summer may feel far away, we are deep into the hiring process for the Summer of 2024!  

Every year looks different when it comes to staff. For this coming summer, we are so happy to welcome back a large group of second-year returners.  

As someone who works for Ballibay full-time, I spend the majority of my year talking with camp families and hearing all about their camper’s excitement of returning in the summer.  

Now, on the other end of the gamut, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with staff who share that same excitement. I was fortunate enough to be able to reconnect with five of our second-year returners, Sophia, Sonny, Harley, Connor, and Millie about what draws them back to Ballibay and their hopes for this upcoming summer. 


Last summer, Sophia was a cabin counselor and filled our social media pages with wonderful pictures of our campers. She not only served as a primary contact for campers in the office, but was also a familiar presence across all program areas, capturing moments as she went about taking photos! This summer, Sophia will be heading into the role as Up-the-Hill Division Head, previously known as Girls’ Dean, and will continue being our social media counselor. When talking to Sophia about her returning to camp in this new position, she replies “I’m excited to see all the returning campers, as well as meeting all the new campers who are coming in. I think with this bigger role, I can develop new and different relationships with both new and returning campers as Division Head. I’m also just super excited to document the whole summer through social media as well because I loved that last summer too.” What makes you want to return to Ballibay? “Honestly, it’s an atmosphere unlike any other. The thing I love (about Ballibay) is that it stays so consistent. When I was a camper, it was a magical experience for me and a place where I felt really safe, welcomed, and love. Now as a counselor and growing into my new position, I still feel that exact same way. It’s (Ballibay) just a place that will always be filled with love.” Do you have any advice for first-year staff? “Put the kids first- always. I think sometimes everyone can get caught up in their own heads. But when you come to camp, the kids are the focal point and it’s their experience you are helping along. Be as loving and caring to them as you would hope someone would be to you.” 



Connor directed “Finding Nemo” last season and it was such a hit among our campers! This summer, we are excited for him to join our Division Head team as well as continuing being a theater director. I think we can all agree that Ballibay is such a unique place unlike any other, and Connor can definitely confirm this. “Honestly, I’m excited to just get back to camp and having the best summer. This previous summer was one of the best summers I’ve had in years. When I left camp last summer, I already started counting down the days when I would return- I still am! So, just being at camp is what I’m looking forward to the most,” Connor laughs. What makes you want to return to Ballibay? “I think there is something so special about being able to create art without the pressure of it needing to be perfect. I think as artists, we are our worst critics and we always want to do be good for everyone except for ourselves. At Ballibay, we can really let down those walls and make art just because we can.” What is something you wish you knew as a fist-year staff member? “One of the biggest lessons I learned from last summer was to stop stressing about things that really didn’t matter. At camp, there are little things that will stress you out. But you need to remind yourself that you are making art to simply make art. It’s just so nice to be in an environment where we can be our most authentic selves and really enjoy the community we have built at Ballibay.”  



Harley’s costume shop was a sanctuary of creativity, where campers made costumes and put together amazing looks for our performances. This summer, Harley will continue their work in the costume shop and we can’t wait to see what’s in store! What are you most looking forward to this summer? “I’m really excited to see the friends I made last summer. I made such a core group of friends there that I love so much. I’m also so excited to see all the kids again. Working with them is so great. I recently came out as non-binary and getting to work with a group of queer kids really helped me realize this about myself.” What makes you want to return to Ballibay? “This has been the most supportive space I have ever worked in. I’ve never been around such a large group of queer people, artists, neurodivergent people. It’s really comforting to me because I know that this is a place where I can show up in the world without having to apologize for how I’m showing up.” Do you have an advice for first-year staff? “Be the person to accept a kid on their own terms. Be able to understand that, while the campers may have different problems from adults, that doesn’t make their problems any less big or real to them. Remember that we make an impact on the kids so, even if you might not necessarily relate to the things they are struggling with, it’s still important to acknowledge those things and show up as a support system.” 


Sonny’s presence at camp was a highlight of last season! He was able to connect with so many kids across campus and led camper favorites, “Freaky Friday” and “A Gentle Giant”. We are so thrilled to welcome back Sonny as a Division Head and theater director once again! When talking to Sonny about his time at camp, he responses earnestly. “By the end of First Session last summer, I had such a strong connection with my cabin. I knew from that moment I wanted to come back to Ballibay to continue to make these connections. Some of my other friends who worked at different camps last summer didn't develop those bonds and didn’t have the true pleasure of working with kids that are as special, creative, and as fantastic as the kids we have at Ballibay. It’s propelled me to realize that working with kids is something I find most fulfilling in life.” What makes you want to return to Ballibay? “In my life, I’ve been to multiple stage schools and I’ve always been told that you create this ‘second family’ at these places but I’ve never really felt that. But going to Ballibay, especially towards the end of the summer, I really felt that family feeling. I created bonds with so many people throughout camp, whether that be counselors, admin, or campers, you really start to feel that family aspect. I’m just really excited to be reconnected with people that I consider to be my family and being able to just be present with those people.” Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself before your first summer with us? “Give yourself time and allow yourself to enjoy camp as if you were a camper. It sounds a bit ridiculous but the longer I was at Ballibay, it stopped feeling like work. Instead, it felt more like an experience. I just got the opportunity to really experience camp and be in awe of the work you see and how hard everyone worked at camp. I really think that you just need to fully commit to camp and let yourself open up.” 



Last summer, Millie led our campers in multiple fantastic shows including, Treasure Island, Toy Store, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and also headed our radio program! We are thrilled for Millie to return for another unforgettable summer. When talking to Millie about her camp experience, she opened up about her initial worries about working as a foreign staff member in a new environment. “It can be scary to just up and leave your home country for the summer and put your faith into a completely new workplace that you’ve never been in before. But Ballibay was so welcoming and I’m excited to go back to a place where I feel so at home and safe- even though it’s such a different environment for me,” Millie responds. What are you most excited for this upcoming season? “I’m excited to reunite with the kids and staff. It’ll also be really fun to meet the new campers as well. I’m also just really excited to direct more shows!” Any advice to incoming staff? “Go for it. Whatever thing is going on, like Staff Cabaret, go for it! I also feel like at the beginning of camp, I was isolating myself- especially with Sonny because we knew eachother in college before camp. I felt very reliant on them. But my advice is to just be friendly with everyone. It can feel overwhelming at first but just go for it!”  


These conversations have reminded me how life-changing Ballibay is. Our returning staff members share a common thread in their camp experiences- a deep sense of genuine community.  

Our returning staff are ready to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged, and most importantly, to create lasting memories and connections.  

If you or anyone you know is looking for summer employment and has brass, woodwind, strings, or photography experience, please feel free to reach out to me or Camp Director, Sarah Galante ( with a resume or any questions!

Camp Moms on Camp Ballibay

February 21, 2024By Annie Yamamoto

"I get to cheer them on, they get to cheer me on, but we don’t always have to do everything together."

Mihoko Yamamoto, Voice Teacher

I owe my Ballibay experience to the person who, every year, made camp possible for me: my mom.

For eight summers, she worked at camp so that I could attend.

Without her, I never would’ve been a camper at Ballibay.

I've only recently realized that camp was not just a place for me to sing, dance, and be with friends, but it was also a place for my mom and I to be together in a setting only unique to Ballibay.

Now as a staff member, without my mom around, it’s made me more observant of the camper and camp parent dynamics around me and if they are similar to my own. It’s also made me so much more appreciative of them.


"They get to see me living my best life 

and I get to see them living their best lives!"


I have the pleasure of working alongside several camp moms and recently had the chance to talk with Sara Galkin and Deidre Struck- both who currently have kids of their own attending camp.

When talking to them about how their camp experience has been alongside their kids, they both answer earnestly.

“I was nervous about how I would be sucked into their daily lives and that it would prohibit them from being campers and me from being an artist” Deidre replies. “But in fact, I found the opposite to be true. Being at camp with them really helped me creatively because I saw them trying new things, in such a child-like way, which inspired me to do new things as well.”

Sara answers similarly. “I was definitely worried initially. I think they were a bit annoyed in the beginning but they all ended up including me and it was exciting for them that I was there. It’s been awesome because they get to see me living my best life, and I get to see them living their best life. I get to be a fly on the wall and see them putting themselves forward.”

Sara Galkin, Head of Art

I realized very early on that at camp, we had the space to be our own people. I could go out and explore on my own and my mom could do the same. But we also had the support of the Ballibay community to collaborate and cheer each other on.

One of my core memories with my mom at camp was singing “For Good” from Wicked with her in 2009. It was my first ever performance at camp and I was a nervous wreck. Now looking back on it, it makes me smile to think that I shared my first of many Ballibay performances with my mom.

When talking to Sara and Deidre about growing and creating simultaneously alongside their campers, they felt similarly.

“The first year I went to camp with the kids, I didn’t see them at all for the first few days. I really missed them. But then there’s this amazing feeling of knowing that we are in the same environment but doing our own thing. I get to cheer them on, they get to cheer me on, but we don’t always have to do everything together,” Deidre reflects. “It’s honestly incredible to make art alongside them and with them. Playing for them in camper cabarets is something that I always think about because I don't know how long they want me accompanying them! It's something that I'll always cherish."

“They get to have their own space there,” Sara states. “I don’t think they ever really felt like I was intruding on their experience. I let them set the pace and watching them at camp has been great. It doesn’t seem like they’re holding back at all.”

Deidre Struck, Music Director

As my camper summers at Ballibay continued, I saw less and less of my mom. As you can probably imagine, pre-teen Annie wanted to be on her own and enjoy the same freedom her cabinmates had with no parental eyes on her. Now, it’s made me think of how I never had to be directly associated with her all the time and vice versa. Some space was a good thing- a beneficial thing!

When talking to the camp moms about how camp has impacted their lives, separate from their kids, they respond contently.

“It’s been a place where I feel safe and understood- and this security helps me when I return home. It’s a memory of how I can appreciate all the little things. It’s a constant reminder of that level of being present and this trickles down into so many different things. Realizing the space where I come alive has really contributed to understanding what doesn't serve me and making sure that I surround myself with people that lift me up and vice versa. I really get to do my own personal growing,” Sara replies.

“Ballibay encourages people to try new things and do cross disciplinary art, and this has really carried over into my artistic life at home. Sometimes it can be very lonely being a composer. So, I ask myself ‘why do I love Ballibay so much?’ and ‘how can I bring it more into my daily life in New York?’ I came up with the acronym PEACH. P for purpose, E for the beautiful Ballibay environment, A for staying active- my calves get so strong!,” Deidre laughs. “C is for community- at Ballibay, I thrive in community, and H is for health. So that’s PEACH! I actually have some peach stickers to help remind me of how I feel at camp,” Deidre replies.

I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to have my mom at camp with me. The shared memories and experiences we have of camp created a connection unlike any other. I can relate to so much of how Ballibay brings people together- especially family. Camp offers such a special bond that you can’t get anywhere else.

“We start talking about Ballibay pretty much as soon as we get home from Ballibay,” Deidre laughs. “It has become a huge part of our lives.”

“It's certainly added another level of connection for all of us,” Sara reflects.

“It sets such a warm tone. I think it helps the kids understand me and it helps them see me in a different light- out of the regular day to day.”

At times throughout camp when I was feeling down or a bit stressed, I found myself seeking comfort, support, and advice from our camp moms. I think that it’s partly due to missing my own mom, but also because camp moms are able to offer a different perspective and energy that our younger staff don’t have just yet.

“Being a camp mom is the best. I think having moms at camp is really important because a lot of campers miss their moms and may not be able to articulate it. If I’m ever in a rehearsal and I notice that a kid may need a hug or a little extra something that day, I’ve invited kids to sit next to me at the piano. And I think that they enjoy having a mom-like presence around. I try to create space for mom-like community and love. It’s great because there are several of us and campers know that they can go to any one of us for something that’s more of a mom thing- I don’t even know what a mom thing is!,” Deidre chuckles. “It’s just a vibe!”

“The benefit of being a camp mom is really understanding that the kids come first- period. I think there are times we can intervene a little bit with the younger counselors and help them understand the kids in a different way. I think it’s different coming from us,” Sara states.

More Balli-Moms!
From left to right: Janine Sopp, Jana Flynn, Sara Galkin, Deidre Struck, Yuna Weiss

Finally, I took the time to talk to my own mom about her camp experience. We haven’t talked much about camp in a while, so I was interested to hear her thoughts after talking with the current camp moms.

"I really appreciated that I had the privilege to see my child thrive as a young performer and artist. I liked seeing you being so cute and happy!" she laughs. Even if I wasn't always around you, I knew you were in good hands."

"Ballibay gave us such a nostalgic place to always return to- it was our home away from home. I am always nostalgic for camp and it gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart."

"I met the most professional minded people, like Jay, Jesse, and Mel, to enrich my artistic growth and experience. I loved by being surrounded by all the nature at camp because it motivated me to produce more music- it was so much better than being stuck in my home studio."

Mihoko and the 2010 Balli-goats!

In wrapping up my conversation with Sara, Deidre, and my mom, Mihoko, I asked them to share any final words of camp mom wisdom.

“Let your campers be campers. The best thing that I’ve done for my own children, because they’ve grown so much since they’ve started at camp, is to just let them be campers. And remember, no news is good news!” Deidre replies.

“Have your own separate connection with the camp. And have a bond with the other camp moms. Like the same way the kids form a bond with their friends, we (camp moms) have a bond with each other and it’s a very open, honest, and trusting bond,” Sara reflects.

"Let your child free even though you're there! You are two different individuals trying to experience something different so respect each other's space! Have fun in your own world," Mihoko shares.

It has been so enlightening speaking with these camp moms about their camp experience. Our camp moms are a beloved part of the Ballibay community. Through their eyes, we see the impact of a community built on kindness, compassion, and love. These camp moms, with their unwavering dedication, don't just contribute to the camp's environment, but are also so important in shaping the lives and memories of our campers.

4 Reasons Why Sleepaway Camps Are Important for Young Artists in the Post-Pandemic World

December 8, 2023By Annie Yamamoto

4 Reasons Why Sleepaway Camps Are Important for Young Artists in the Post-Pandemic World

As the world emerges from the shadows of the pandemic, most have begun to regain their sense of normalcy, but for many young artists, the path back to their creative pursuits has been a challenging one. After years of empty studios, dark theaters, and quiet garages, kids are ready to be themselves once again. And sleepaway camps offer a unique sanctuary for these artists.  

Working Together Once Again: Collaboration can be incredibly important for young artists. It pushes kids to listen, communicate, and blend their talents to create beautiful art. To the fault of nothing but the pandemic, there has been a lack of opportunity for kids to navigate teamwork and what it means to create art collaboratively outside of the school system. Sleepaway camps provide campers of all different backgrounds a space to learn from different perspectives and skills and be inspired by ideas they may not have encountered on their own. 

Reigniting Artistic Independence: While some artists collaborate with others, some choose to create on their own. However, the isolating nature of the pandemic may have hindered the independence of many artists. The enforced isolation during the pandemic lockdown worsened feelings of loneliness. The lack of social interactions and art events meant that young artists missed out on so many opportunities to nurture their artistic growth. Sleepaway camps empower young artists to explore (or re-explore) their creative ideas and instincts independently, all while having the space and support of a community. When campers are away from their familiar confines of home and free from the pressures of school deadlines, they are challenged to develop their artistic identities on their own and gain the confidence to express themselves authentically.  

Time Away from Screens: Living in this post-pandemic world has shown that kids are wedged between the intersection of the ever-expanding digital realm and reality. For the last few years, phones were the only source for connections and entertainment. Many kids have grown up with the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets being the norm. In findings revealed by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table in 2022, it has been observed that non-online school based screen time for children experienced a noteworthy rise in with the onset of the pandemic, from 2.6 to 5.9 hours a day. Sleepaway camps offer a unique opportunity for kids to unplug from their devices and reconnect face-to-face. It's amazing what kids can do when they are given the time to just be kids again.

Lifelong Friendships: The connections formed at sleepaway camps are truly special. There is something about the shared experiences of summer camp that create lifelong bonds. Kids raised through the height of the pandemic missed out on so many chances to form these friendships and expand their social horizons. Sleepaway camps, once again, offer kids the chance to make friends organically and truly share a special connection. 

In the wake of the pandemic, where so many values have become lost, the need for children to be kids again is more important than ever. Sleepaway camps offer the perfect space for kids to rediscover who they are and once again enjoy the journey of making art.  


December 21, 2021By sarah galante

Almost 15 years ago, our managing director Kristin Alexander established an annual residency at Ballibay with Annex Dance Company, her professional modern dance company located in Charleston, South Carolina. Each summer she brings a company member(s) to teach in our dance department and perform alongside the campers in the dance concert. This summer, Ballibay was fortunate enough to have Taylor Bennett, an Annex Dance Company apprentice and College of Charleston student all summer long. Taylor taught modern, jazz and hip-hop, and brought so much creativity, joy, and collaboration to our dance department. We hope we will be fortunate enough to continue to work with her for many summers to come.

Taylor Bennett and Rhianna Lewis, Camp Ballibay Dance Concert 2021. PC: Cydney Blitzer. 

During the second dance intensive, Kristin choreographed a new piece entitled Right Here. Right Now. Kristin, Taylor and the campers performed the piece to a score composed by camp director John Jannone, making it a succinct and lovely Ballibay collaboration for our final dance concert of the 2021 season. About five months after the Ballibay debut, Annex Dance Company premiered Right Here. Right Now. in Charleston. I spoke with Taylor and Kristin to discuss the differences and similarities between the two performances, and how it felt growing alongside a new and expanding piece of choreography.

Sofia Puccio and Kristin Alexander. Camp Ballibay Dance Concert, 2021. PC: Cydney Blitzer. 

How does a piece like Right Here. Right Now. become a part of the Annex Dance Company season?
Kristin: Every summer while the company is in-residence, I either set company repertory or create new work for us to perform with the campers in the dance concert.  When I create new choreography, I bring it back to Charleston to workshop with my company.  This season we had a performance planned in December that I knew would be the perfect concert to premiere Right Here. Right Now. in Charleston. 

Can you tell me what it was like to begin the process of Right Here. Right Now. at Camp Ballibay this summer?
Kristin: I really wanted to collaborate with John, so I was excited he wanted to work on a composition for the piece.  The music definitely influenced the creative direction, especially the movement vocabulary.  

Taylor: Kristin created choreography phrases for us to work with in rehearsal. We tried them as a group, in duets, and even transformed them into moments of connection and partnering.  She had a vision for the piece, but as she always does, allowed the creative process to be authentic and open to new ideas.  

What was it like performing this piece for the second time, this time without camper involvement, but with Annex Dance Company?
Kristin: It is always incredible to me how much we are able to accomplish at camp. Creating a new work and performing it with the campers in less than two weeks is challenging…and very rewarding.  Once back in Charleston we spent over a month working with the choreography, exploring the partnering, and finding new ways to be connected to one another and the music.

Taylor: The biggest difference was the playfulness we found as a company, which may have made it even more inviting for the audience. I love this piece, so I was all smiling the whole time while performing it this time around.

Taylor Bennett and Sydni Shaffer. Right Here. Right Now. The Pearlstine Theatre, Charleston, SC 2021. PC: DJ Connor. 

Was there anything from camp that you took with you into your most recent performance?
Kristin: Even with all the changes, I still felt very connected to the campers as I workshopped the piece and performed it with the company. 

Taylor: I took the joy from camp and used it in the most recent performance. At Camp Ballibay the campers were always having fun and enjoying their craft. I was doing the same while I performed this piece. 

We are so looking forward to the work Annex Dance Company will bring to Camp Ballibay in 2022! If you have a project you started at Ballibay that has continued and transformed during the off-season, please reach out to us! We would love to feature you on our next Balli-blog.
Taylor: The biggest difference was the playfulness we found as a company, which may have made it even more inviting for the audience. I love this piece, so I was all smiling the whole time while performing it this time around.

Tara Rooks and Bethany Willis. Right Here. Right Now. The Pearlstine Theatre, Charleston, SC 2021. PC: DJ Connor. 


April 1, 2018By Kerin

art camp and technology

It will come as no surprise to read that technology has taken over, well, everything. (I mean, you’re not reading this in a print magazine, are you?) But tech’s ubiquity is about more than just being slaves to social media or reliant on Google or Alexa to tell us, well, everything we need to know (and solving conflicts both minor and major). Tech is also a driving force in our lives, and those of our children, because of the way in which it’s asserted dominance in how we conceptualize our world, its future, and our place in it.

For some time now, technology has been touted as the key to figuring out a successful life. Careers in STEM subjects are prioritized for kids from a very young age. And while I really don’t believe in the utility of “preparing” kids for specific careers before they’re in college, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen how insidious the emphasis on technology as savior is. Learning to code has been praised as the answer for everything from combatting gender inequality to lifting kids out of poverty to ending systemic racism. (Need proof? See the way in which Black Panther‘s King T’challa decides to help the impoverished kids of Oakland by… having his tech wiz sister, Shuri, teach them how to code.)

Learning to code has been praised as the answer for everything from combatting gender inequality to lifting kids out of poverty to ending systemic racism.

This isn’t a sudden sea change, of course. Technology as an advancement tool has been a huge part of the cultural conversation since the mid-20th century days of the space race. And if you or your children have attended American public schools in the last several decades, you’ve seen the ways in which STEM classes and tech have grown in importance in the classroom. And that’s to say nothing of the ways in which tech’s importance has grown in our personal lives, i.e. a lot.

It would be easy to look at this state of affairs and conclude that as tech continues to take over, that art has lost its relevance, and is a relic of a long-gone analog world. After all, if you look at the ways in which art and the humanities have been drastically deprioritized in school settings, it’s clear that many educators and administrators no longer find value in it.

art camp and technology - music

But this is a huge loss. Art and the humanities are more relevant than ever in a world where tech’s ubiquity raises many philosophical questions that only people who have a foundational education in the humanities can answer. Beyond that, art offers so many opportunities to do things like problem solve, learn to focus on difficult tasks, persevere, and work out creative solutions. These are all tools that can be used in technological areas, where analog thinking can actually be a huge asset.

But also: It’s important to remember that tech and art are not a binary equation; they are not two oppositional forces. Instead, tech and art can—and must—be combined in order for both to progress in a way that is truly comprehensive and revolutionary. And just in the same way technological solutions can feel liberating (it is pretty nice to know what the weather will be like halfway around the world as you prepare for a vacation), art can be a freeing respite from a world spent in front of a series of screens.

It’s important to remember that tech and art are not a binary equation; they are not two oppositional forces.

And this is where an arts education—including, most certainly, at camp—comes in. It offers the chance for kids whose typical school year is overloaded with science and math to try completely different approaches to problems. It allows them to glimpse a world that incorporates tech, but isn’t wholly reliant on it. It gives them options. This is essential to creating an understanding of the world as not being an either/or kind of a place, but rather one where the limits are malleable, the possibilities capable of multiplying, as long as you don’t see the world as nothing more than a mere series of 1s and 0s.


March 17, 2018By Kerin

young girl at art camp

From the moment our kids are born, we try to smooth out the rough edges of the world around us. We baby-proof our homes. Maybe we put black-out shades in their bedrooms, creating a womb-like cocoon for sleeping. Or we shush people making loud noises, lest they bother our kids. Probably, we cut food into small pieces. Certainly, we screen for appropriate content in books, music, and TV. We use softer language, modulated voices, the most gentle of movements. In short, we reduce the presence of conflict in our children’s lives. Often, we do this hoping they will have an easier path through the world than we did.

But while this practice is obviously beneficial in many ways (sharp coffee table corners can cause real damage!), there’s a degree to which many parents not only take it too far when it comes to their young children (taking a fall and getting a bruise is not the end of the world!). And far worse than being a hyper-vigilant parents of infants and toddlers is carrying that type of wariness into raising adolescents and teenagers, and making them ill-prepared to deal with conflict when it arises.

Our lives are filled with conflict on a major and micro scale.

Our lives are filled with conflict on a major and micro scale. Beyond the obvious types of conflict—arguments between friends, frustrations about a superior’s request—there are many small conflicts we all navigate on a daily, if not hourly basis. Things like ceding the right of way when walking down the sidewalk or angling for that one empty subway seat on a crowded rush hour train or grappling with an over-booked schedule are all examples of micro-conflicts. All of these types of conflicts are important to confront and learn how to navigate. But by teaching our children to live in a world where we pave the way for them, we are failing in our ability to do just that.

Of course, it’s not just because we want to “protect” our kids that we try and erase conflict in their lives. It’s also a way in which we protect ourselves. Plus, it’s easier than ever to do. So many conflicts in our lives can be solved by a quick Google search. Got an IKEA bookshelf to put together and no idea how? Hire someone on TaskRabbit to do it. Need to compare quickly the relative costs of flights to Los Angeles on a variety of potential dates? Expedia has you covered. We live in the age of instant gratification and that shows in the ways we handle any disruptions.

art camp conflict exercise

But, conflict-avoidance, whether we practice it or teach it, doesn’t mean conflicts disappear. On the contrary, really. We aren’t learning anything, nor are we teaching our children well, by pretending the world’s problems can be solved with a few taps on a screen.

However, while it is essential to allow our kids to learn how to deal with conflicts on their own, that doesn’t mean we need to unnecessarily add stress to their lives. Instead we can figure out ways to present them with choices to make, so that they can figure out how to navigate a variety of options in a way in which they feel safe and like they have agency.

This type of decision-making process is one that is a huge part of the Ballibay philosophy. Unlike other camps, which mandate rigid schedules and have a very precise definition of order, Ballibay prioritizes freedom and choice for the campers. This is the ethos behind the camp’s “no grid” scheduling system, one which inherently leads to conflicts. But what it also leads to is conversation, and an opportunity for kids to explore what it is they really want to be doing, and with whom they want to be doing it. It also means that kids sometimes need to have the kind of conversations that even adults find difficult, in which they explain to a friend why they can’t spend time with them doing A, because they have another commitment to doing B.

Kids are so often sheltered from making difficult decisions, and that does them little good.

Though this might seem like a pretty minor type of conflict, the effects of learning how to manage it can easily be writ large. Kids are so often sheltered from making difficult decisions, and that does them little good. The decisions they need to make in their lives won’t get easier, nor will it be possible to ignore them. Sometimes, they’ll make “bad” decisions. But that’s okay too, as it will teach them resilience, and afford them an opportunity to regroup and come up with a better solution.

This type of resilience and problem-solving, though, can only be taught if kids are presented with problems—preferably the kind they can handle. This is what Ballibay offers them: a protected environment to explore and make choices, to fail and succeed. No, there won’t be anyone there to pick them up if they fall down. But that’s okay, because, in no time at all, they’ll be springing back up all on their own.



February 22, 2018By Kerin

art summer camp crafts

There’s a parenting trope centered around careers with which I’m sure you’re all familiar. Basically, it relies on the presumption that it’s incredibly important where your child goes to preschool, because this will lead to going to the “right” elementary school, and the “right” middle school, and the “right” high school, and the “right” college, which will, of course, land your child the “right” job, where he or she will, presumably, make the “right” amount of money, i.e. a lot.

Are you exhausted just reading all that? I sure am. I’m also well aware of what’s missing in that whole ladder to… success. Namely: any indication of what the children in question might want for themselves. This type of parenting doesn’t focus on what’s right for the child. Rather, this type of parenting focuses on what society has determined to be “right” according to a very stringent set of limitations. It’s a reductive and boring way of looking at the world—and at your child’s future. Unfortunately, it’s also a very common one.

There’s no doubt that even well-meaning parents fall into this trap. Even if you aren’t the kind of parent who thinks that school—and really all of childhood, including extracurricular activities and pursuits—are just steps taken on the way to something bigger, more important, it’s still possible to lose sight of the present and look toward the future. Or, alternately, it’s possible to see what’s happening in the present and think of it only in terms of the future.

Capitalism encourages us to think about our love in terms of its utility.

Like, seeing how your child loves to take toys apart and think to yourself that this means they will be an engineer. Or, taking your kid’s love of the subway system as a sign that they will grow up to be a city planner. It’s easy to do this because we are preconditioned to do this. Capitalism encourages us to think about our love in terms of its utility. And so of course we, as parents, try and figure out what our kids like. And then we encourage them to explore those things further. It’s practically a capitalist mandate! Ugh.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. First, parents should always try and do a better job at getting out of the way of our kids. We shouldn’t be figuring out what they like. That should be something self-directed by the kids. This is one of the things at which Ballibay excels. The camp allows kids to figure out for themselves what they love to do. And rather than focus on an end goal for those interests, or encouraging kids to get involved only with those activities at which they are innately talented, Ballibay does the opposite. It’s a process-oriented camp which encourages experimentation. So, even though my children entered camp with a general idea of the areas which interested them, they wound up being drawn to different pursuits and experiences.

art summer camp - playing guitar

This isn’t to say, however, that parents should sit back and see what their kids are naturally interested in and then build an education and career plan around that. Not at all! The thing is, parents need to start actively resisting thinking this way. There is simply no need to be career planning for kids who aren’t even in college yet. Nor is there even a real reason to do this when they are in college.

We are conditioned to think that living to work, rather than working to live, is a normal way of being.

We are conditioned to think that a career is what will bring us personal fulfillment. We are conditioned to think that through our jobs we will find stability. We are conditioned to think that living to work, rather than working to live, is a normal way of being. We are conditioned to think that the answer to the question “what do you do?” will tell us not what a person’s job is, but rather who a person is.

We are conditioned to think these things, but we should break that conditioning with our kids. We should instead be teaching them (and hopefully also by example) that their interests do not have to result in something professional, or even professional-adjacent. It is all too easy these days for people to think that everything they do must result in something lucrative. This is one of the many dark sides of the rise of the “gig economy,” a Silicon Valley creation that leads people to think they must always be hustling, always be earning. It is insidious psychologically, and also has negative ramifications (i.e. the degradation of unions and other important workers’ rights organizations) that extend beyond just the “all work and no play” mentality it promotes.

Instead of seeing our children’s interests as harbingers of their professional futures, we must resist that impulse, and instead see their interests as merely that. We should encourage our children to pursue those things that they love, and to do so just because of that love. This is important also because of the fact that so many traditionally stable industries are in states of flux as our world changes dramatically. Scary as that is, this notion that traditional paths to professional success are now dead ends, it could also be liberating, and a chance to rid ourselves of ideas of what success looks like at all. We should, anyway, allow our kids to define what success means to them, and let them lead themselves down their own paths.

Certainly one way of doing this is offering them a few weeks every summer at a place like Ballibay, a place where they won’t be assessed and graded and told what they’re “good” at and what they’re “bad” at and what that means for their future. Instead, they’ll get to be in an environment where they can just be. Maybe they will find something that, one day, they’ll look back upon and see as a sign of what their future would hold. Or maybe they won’t. No matter what happens, though, we as parents should be encouraging them to live in the moment, not in some distant future filled with job applications and invites to connect on LinkedIn. These are our children. They deserve better than that. And so do we.


December 31, 2017By Kerin

arts camp creative performance 1

We throw around the word value a lot. What’s so fascinating about that is the word has come to have two, connected, but not necessarily equivalent meanings. When we talk about seeking something that is a good value, we are usually talking about something that is a good deal, i.e. you’re getting the most bang for your buck. This concept of value, then, is results-oriented, and seemingly quantifiable. The other idea of value stands in direct contrast to the first idea. It revolves around those intangible things that make up a life’s worth. These valuable things include our experiences with family, friends, and the world around us. They are the things that are impossible to directly quantify, even if they are obviously worthwhile.

In education, the idea of value receives lots of attention. This makes some amount of sense. After all, our children’s education extends throughout their entire youth and into adulthood. We have been told over and over again that what and how our children learn in school is what will guarantee their future successes, both in terms of their careers and their lives, in general. It’s no wonder then that we look to easily quantifiable aspects of education—test scores, GPAs, academic signposts—as being markers of success. It is much easier to look at a child’s math grade and use it to determine whether or not they are thriving than it is to look at a ceramics project and see the same.

In education, the idea of value receives lots of attention.

This is a huge mistake, though, one which ignore the inherent value in arts education. I’ve written before about the importance of different aspects of art education, from dance to theater. But I’ve yet to frame it in terms of specific worth. There’s a few reasons for this, one being that I think traditional ideas of educational worthiness are… ridiculous. (That’s putting it mildly.) Every adult should be well aware by now that there is no single path to success. To say nothing of the fact that there is no single definition of “success” anyway!

Beyond that, though, the value in arts education is difficult to quantify. There’s the ways in which arts education has been shown to lead to creative play. This, in turn, leads to children with advanced social skills, and capable of creative thought and deep empathy. There’s no easy way to put a number on these things, and yet their value is enormous.

arts camp creative performance 2

The arts also give children the chance to make mistakes in a way that academics don’t. For example, if a child does a chemistry equation incorrectly, we tell them they are wrong. If an essay contains a sentence that is grammatically incorrect, we draw a red line through the offending words. But what if a child’s painting doesn’t come out exactly the way they want it to? Or if they flub a line during a class play? They have the chance to, in the first case, try again and make it differently, without the accompanying stigma of hearing their first effort was a failure. And, in the second case, they can think on their feet and come up with a solution in the moment.

The thing about art is that nobody is great at it right away. But becoming better and realizing there is no right or wrong way of doing things is part of the process.

The important thing is to understand that value is a tricky concept.

In an educational arena in which everyone is assigned a score for doing just about everything, art can be a refuge for over-stimulated kids. It is a national tragedy that art is not a priority in our public school curriculums, but there are ways for parents to reconcile that reality with what they want for their kids. One way, certainly, is by sending kids to an art-based, process-oriented camp like Ballibay. Another way is by supplementing academic life with extracurricular art activities, like pottery classes or music lessons. This is also a great way to make sure your kids don’t have their phones in their hands for a few hours every week.

The important thing is to understand that value is a tricky concept. All too often we are seeking to find something that we can see is a great value because of how the numbers add up. And the numbers don’t even seem to exist when it comes to arts education. But maybe that’s just fine. Maybe we don’t need to find the “value” in the arts, because maybe we just need to learn that the arts are an invaluable part of education. And our children will benefit from learning this lesson too.


December 26, 2017By Kerin

arts camp dance performance

We all remember those Apple ads, right? The ones featuring images of instantly recognizable leaders from all places of the world, involved in all manners of professional fields. There were Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earheart, Miles Davis, Pablo Picasso, and, of course, Steve Jobs, all featured alongside the words: Think Different.

This ad campaign was a wildly successful one, and was defining for Apple, specifically in its ability to put forth a strong brand identity for the company, one which still exists, decades after the campaign first ran. Apple created this identity in order to align itself with genius, creativity, and originality. The people who used Apple were icons, yes, but they were also iconoclasts. They broke the mold and often refashioned it in their own image. They embodied the idea of thinking differently as the only true path to brilliance.

The irony of these ads, of course, is that their widespread success has meant that Apple’s popularity surged. More and more people bought their products, wanting to identify with a brand that explicitly advocated thinking differently. Meanwhile, what Apple was implicitly saying was: “Think like everybody else and buy our products and never stop buying them and have some freaking loyalty to a corporation why don’t you.”

We like to think we value the iconoclast, the rogue, the maverick. When it comes right down to it, though, we pretty much all fall prey to the comforts of group think.

But so, the point here isn’t really about Apple, even if it also kind of is. Rather the point here is that as a culture, we merely pay lip service to the idea of thinking differently. We like to think we value the iconoclast, the rogue, the maverick. When it comes right down to it, though, we pretty much all fall prey to the comforts of group think. Never is this more true when it comes to raising children.

Which, look: I get it—especially when it comes to kids. It’s easier to want them to be typical in their development. We want our kids’ lives to have the “right” kind of challenges. We don’t want the kinds that will lead to bullying, or to frustrated teachers. This is an understandable impulse, as a parent, but it is also an untenable one. This is especially true when you are raising a child who undeniably has a different way of thinking. These kids cannot necessarily be expected to comfortably exist in the mainstream, let alone to thrive.

arts camp music performance

First, what does it mean to think different? One simple way of realizing that your child thinks differently is if they learn differently. This might be apparent from an early age, when a teacher calls out a child for being disruptive during circle time. “Disruptive” can mean that they don’t want to sit in one place for 20 minutes at a time. “Disruptive” could also mean that they constantly ask “why” when their teacher offers seemingly arbitrary reasons for why things need to be a certain way. Rebelliousness is a key signifier of a different thinker, but its presence in young children often leads to frustration on the part of teachers—and parents.

And, in fact, here’s where parents need to step in and help their differently thinking child. The best and probably easiest way of doing this is by allowing kids to express feelings of dissent. If your child says that something is unfair or wrong, listen to them. Don’t do the knee-jerk thing so many parents do and side with the person in authority. (Even when that person in authority is… you.) Instead, help your child to figure out a way to solve their problems for themselves. Remind them that veering off from the expected path doesn’t mean they’re taking a wrong turn, it just means they’re finding a new route.

It’s really easy for adults to obsess over culturally approved success markers.

This might also be an important thing to remind yourself, as the parent. It’s really easy for adults to obsess over culturally approved success markers. Think: the right neighborhood to live in, the right job, the right salary, the right schools for your kids. But we must stop that. In part, because it’s a bad example to set for our kids. But also because it’s not an ideal way to live our own lives.

Ways in which we can help our kids—both those who naturally are different thinkers, and those who should be encouraged to stray from the norm—include giving them more responsibility. By doing things like allowing kids agency in planning their schedules, we are offering them the chance to turn frustrations into creative solutions. We should also think carefully about the environments in which our kids exist. Some different thinkers can thrive even in traditional settings. Once encouraged to utilize their inquisitive nature in beneficial ways, they can adapt to their surroundings. Not every differently thinking kid is like that, though. As parents, we need to make sure that our kids are in situations where different thinking is accepted and encouraged.

What we must remember is that being a different thinker doesn’t mean being an outcast. Even when encouraging our kids to find their own paths to success (whatever shape “success” takes), we must remind them that respecting others can lead to worthwhile collaborations and experiences. Rules can be bent and even dismantled without leading to chaos. And, in fact, different thinkers often do well with having some rules in place, even if they are simultaneously encouraged to use those rules as a guideline instead of an ironclad system.

The biggest thing to remember when raising a kid to think differently is to be open to doing the same yourself. There is no right or wrong way to live a life. And whether or not your child is the next Steve Jobs is beside the point. Rather, the point is to allow your kids the freedom of figuring out who they want to be, not who others are telling them they ought to be. And that’s where true originality can be found—and it has nothing to do with what kind of laptop you use.

art camp pottery


December 1, 2017By Kerin

art camp photography

One of the things I love most about my kids going to Ballibay each year is the knowledge of how they will be spending their time. Once dropped off, they will spend several, uninterrupted weeks without the distractions of their phones, social media, television, or other screen-centered activities. This is a huge relief for me, and, frankly, I know it is for them too. Gone is the temptation of whiling away hours on their devices, ignoring all the other possible things they could be doing. In its stead are a myriad of enriching offerings, from which the kids can pick and choose, leading themselves in the directions in which they want to go. Wonderful!

And then… they come back home. Suddenly their lives are filled again with all the distractions absent from camp. It’s only natural that they drift toward newly familiar habits, no matter how bad they might be. To compound that dilemma, they also start school again, and suddenly need to figure out how to manage their time in a very different way than they did during the summer. Their responsibilities increase and the amount of hours in the day during which they have anything resembling free time decreases. It’s far from ideal, but it is a situation many parents are working with—not only in terms of their kids, but also with regards to themselves.

What should parents do when they realize their kids are handling their time poorly?

But let’s focus on the kids for right now. What should parents do when they realize their kids are handling their time poorly? There’s a lot of different ways this can manifest. It can mean that kids are falling behind in their schoolwork or not practicing their instruments enough or otherwise lagging behind in responsibilities. It can also mean that they are choosing to spend what free time they do have in undesirable ways, aka on an endless scroll through Instagram. It can also be a combination of the two, because, why not? Parenting is fun that way.

art camp camper with cat

It makes sense if you’re first inclination when handling an issue like this is to do a crackdown of sorts, and place your kids on a restrictive regimen, wherein they need to account for all their time. Strictly organized charts and schedules are often a part of this. It’s an understandable impulse, of course. It’s the same sort of thing that makes me, as an adult, want to delete all the social media apps from my phone (because, like, Twitter really might be evil), and just go cold turkey and finally have control of my life for once. But, you know, my installing artificial and sometimes deleterious limits on yourself or your kids, you are ultimately just taking away the ability to self-regulate.

This is where the Ballibay philosophy comes into play. Whereas other camps offer highly regimented days for campers, during which pretty much every moment is accounted for, Ballibay lets kids direct themselves and figure out how to prioritize. And there’s no reason not to implement these lessons at home. It’s important for kids to understand that managing time isn’t about becoming a slave to schedules and routines. Yes, it’s important to have routines, but they should be serving you, not the other way around. The ultimate goal, after all, is not to keep kids so busy with homework and work at home that they don’t have time to be distracted. Rather it’s to guide them to make good choices among the many distractions that exist in this world.

The goal is to guide kids to make good choices among the many distractions that exist in this world.

Sometimes they’ll need help. One of my sons has a very long subway commute back and forth to school each day (over two hours roundtrip). I didn’t want to ban his phone outright during the commute, but I also didn’t want him to be reliant on it. So we talked about other things he could do on the subway, to keep himself occupied for the long ride. He agreed to start reading not-for-school novels on the train, but said he was skeptical that it would really work for him. And yet, within a few days, he’d finished the book he’d reluctantly brought and was asking to go to the bookstore and get more by the same author. It was great for me too, because, since I go with him halfway to school, I also made a point to not be on my phone and to bring either a book or a magazine (hey, that huge stack of old New Yorkers isn’t going to read itself!).

There’s nothing wrong with a little outright restriction when it comes to phones and TV and social media, but it’s important that kids have alternatives to take their place. It’s also important that the kids get to figure out what alternative they choose. Sometimes that might just be laying on their bedroom floor, thinking about who knows what. That’s fine too. The goal isn’t to manage their time for them, but for them to figure out how to manage it for themselves. It’s a goal that’s incredibly worthwhile, because it will serve them their whole lives. It’s definitely one I wish I had started figuring out a little bit earlier, but, you know, it’s really never too late to find the rhythm you want for yourself, and to pick out the idiosyncratic beat of your hours as they roll out before you, waiting to be filled or not filled however you see fit.

art camp gardening