CENTER STAGE: HOW THEATRE HELPS OUR KIDS IN ALL AREAS OF LIFE

July 18, 2017By kristin

theater camp performance 1

It’s well known at this point that many, if not most, public schools have had to cut back on their theater camp arts programming. (This is, after all, one of the reasons we’re all sending our kids to art camp, right?) But while there’s a lot of awareness of decreasing budgets for music and fine arts classes, there is less attention paid to the lack of theatrical study now on offer at schools. Perhaps this is because the ability to draw a still life or carry a simple tune is seen as a more general artistic talent, available to many, whereas taking to the stage to perform in a theatrical piece is seen as specialized, reserved only for those who have a real passion for the stage.

Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that more children aren’t involved with theatrical arts, because the skills gleaned from acting on stage can be applied to all areas of life. Below are some of the many ways in which theatrical experience can be a huge asset to your child. As someone pretty famous once said, all the world’s a stage, why not encourage your kids to play on it?

It instills in them a sense of being one small—but vital—part of a larger whole

Collaboration: Unless your child winds up only acting in one-man, self-directed and -written shows (which, wow, that’s impressive), chances are that they will be working with a whole team of people. This instills in them a sense of being one small—but vital—part of a larger whole. They can see firsthand the impact that their work has on the team, and will learn how to better move a collective creative vision into a final product.

Confidence: There’s tons of adults I know who are terrified of standing up in front of a big crowd, let alone speaking to one. Few, if any, of these adults were involved with theatre when they were kids. Theatre camp helps children understand that they have it in them to command a room; they are important enough to have all eyes on them. Being on stage, whether as a star or bit player, affords kids an opportunity to experience what it’s like to have everyone else around hush up and pay attention. And it gives them the tools to know what to do with that focus: Speak loudly and clearly, and communicate effectively.

Body language: Acting is a full-body experience, and lots of kids have no clue what they ought to be doing with their bodies. Theatre exercises make kids cognizant of how they carry themselves in this world, and how even the slightest gestures can convey different emotions and attitudes. They will learn about the power of their own breath, the way they can use their voice to make themselves heard in all sorts of different ways.

theater camp performance 2

Reading between the lines: Being a careful and perceptive reader is a skill that most kids learn in their English classes at school, but the kind of extra close line-by-line reading that theatre necessitates can lead to a whole new level of reading comprehension. It’s a wonderful gift for kids to have to move through a play sentence by sentence, wondering what the motivation is behind each and every word. The limited amount of exposition in scripts means that kids will have to use their imaginations to understand what a character’s intent actually is. This is invaluable when it comes to our children’s future, regarding everything from critical thinking about books to the ways in which our kids will learn to intuit how other people are thinking and feeling.

Failure is an option, but that’s okay: Here’s a thing about live theatre: If something can go wrong at one point, it probably will. Maybe a line will be forgotten. Maybe an entrance will be missed. Maybe a prop will go missing. Maybe a set piece will fall. Maybe crazy right-wingers will come rushing the stage screaming about gerbils because they don’t understand political satire. Whatever the case may be, disaster often strikes live theatre. And you know what? Everything still turns out just fine. This is an important lesson for kids to learn. There’s so many variables in life. So few are fully under our control. That’s why we’ve got to learn to roll with the punches, and do our best anyway. And also to…

Improvise: Just because something gets messed up, it doesn’t mean everything needs to stop. The show—like life—must go on. This is so important for kids to realize; even when they are literally the star of the stage, they too need to adapt to big changes. And in that adaptation comes a different kind of liberation, one which shows kids that there can be freedom in veering away from the designated script, and just experiencing what comes next with no plan in sight.

A life in theatre can teach you a different way of seeing the world—as a stage, as a playground, as a home to make your own

Rejection: It’s a fact that not everyone can be the star of a show; some people might not even ever make it on stage. This sucks and can be hard to deal with, but it’s also a necessary life lesson. It’s also one that parents often try to shelter their children from learning. But that can’t be done in theatre. Kids will need to learn how to accept it, or… well, there is no “or.” Rejection is a part of life, and it’s good to get exposed to its sting.

Praise: Beyond getting used to rejection, though, kids should get used to praise. One of the best parts of being on stage is—without a doubt—the applause. Oh, that’s not because everyone should constantly be showered with cheers and flowers, but rather because it’s a wonderful thing to be openly praised for all the hard work and talent and effort that go into a theatrical profession. And just as it’s good to teach kids about rejection, it’s good to teach them about praise. Through this type of affirmation, kids can better understand what results from their work and also take the time to praise the work of those who helped bring their creative passion into fruition.

Theatre might not be life-changing for every kid who participates in it. And, look, it’s not that all actors are wholly well-adjusted people. (Though, to be honest, I’m sure that they’re not any better or worse than any other adults. Humans—we’re a messy bunch.) But being on stage can impart valuable lessons to all who partake in it. In essence, a life in theatre can teach you a different way of seeing the world—as a stage, as a playground, as a home to make your own.

theater camp performance 3

LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION: GETTING LETTERS FROM YOUR KIDS

July 10, 2017By kristin

art camp student with photographs

When people talk about the death of the written word and the breakdown in modern communication, one of the things they most often point to as a sign of these new times is the fact that nobody sends each other letters anymore. The replacement of lengthy correspondence with emoji-laden text messages is supposedly one of the more tragic symptoms of society’s collapse since, like, there’s no possible way a smiling poop could ever replace the rich treasure trove that is our written language. It’s a travesty—an outrage! Or, you know, maybe it’s not.

Despite being a writer and editor by profession, and therefore, like, a relatively big fan of words and using them, I tend to be less sentimental than most about how language usage is evolving because of technological innovations. In part this is because I feel like, thanks to smart phones, my kids and I communicate far more than I ever did with my parents. And I kind of like getting all-emoji messages from them! It’s just straight-up fun to see when they use the upside down smiling face as compared to when I do. (Admit it, you love it too.)

But also, I think the reason that I’m pretty relaxed with how my kids do and don’t communicate with me throughout the year is because I know that, come summer, a whole new avenue of communication will open up to us: Letters from camp. (Okay, well, maybe some kids send literal letters; mine send emails, but it’s the same thing. No, really!)

When you’re communicating with your child while you’re both under the same roof, there’s a laziness attached to the whole thing

My kids’ letters from camp are amazing precisely because they come at a time when not only is the way our society communicates drastically changing, but so is the way that they and I communicate with each other. While every parent-child relationship is different, one thing most parents I know have experienced as their children grow into young adulthood is a breakdown in face-to-face communication. Maybe “breakdown” is too fraught a word; the changes that often come in how we talk to our kids and how they talk to us can perhaps be more fairly said to be evolving than deteriorating. But the fact is that when you’re communicating with your child while you’re both under the same roof, there’s a laziness attached to the whole thing, a mutual understanding that you can get by without saying too much, because you kind of already know what’s going on in each other’s lives. (You do live together after all.)

This level of familiarity leads to a sort of conversational shorthand, featuring lots of simple questions asked by parents: “Is your homework done?” “How was school?” “Did you empty the dishwasher?” “Can you please pick up the towels from the bathroom floor?” And lots of simple answers given by children: “No.” “Fine.” “Yes.” “Yes.” Sure, there are sometimes more meaningful exchanges, but for the most part, you fall into a conversational rut with your kids, as they do with you.

This all changes when they’re away at camp. Suddenly, you don’t know what they’re doing every waking hour; their days are filled with mysteries, ones that you can only learn about by asking them real questions. But then also, your days are suddenly mysterious to them. (Do not think this necessarily means that they will ask you about yours—they’re still kids, after all—just think of it as being material for you to write about in letters to them.) The point is, though, that you will now have questions to ask them that have nothing to do with the banalities of every day life at home. You will have real things to ask about. And you will get back real responses in return.

It’s a way of communicating that can’t possibly involve the poop emoji

Or, you know, you might not! One of the things I’ve found most amazing about writing and receiving letters with my two children is that even if I write vaguely similar things to each of them, I get back wildly different replies. One son makes a point of writing long and detailed emails, full of information about the highs and lows of everything he’s experiencing; the music he’s making, the play in which he’s performing, the friends he’s meeting. He asks questions about me and what’s happening in my life. It’s incredibly revealing about who he is as a person: empathetic, considerate, curious, and serious.

My other son, however, rattles off pithy missives, full of jokes and intentionally misspelled words. He rarely asks how I am, and doesn’t reveal too much detail about what’s going on in his life, and yet it’s impossible not to read between the lines and get a full picture of his life at camp, one reflective of his personality: vibrant, spontaneous, full of humor and light.

As I now enter the sixth year of having a child enrolled at Ballibay, I realize more than ever how much the letters they send me are an important part of the camp experience—at least for me, but I”m sure also for them. It’s a way of getting closer to my children, even as we separate from one another. It’s a new way to get to know them, and to figure out how to communicate with one another, and share the news of our daily lives and thoughts and feelings. It’s learning to talk to one another as more than just parent and child, but as people who are engaged in different activities, who exist in different spheres of influence. It’s a way of telling each other “I love you” and “I miss you,” of asking “how are you,” and really meaning it, not just saying it without thinking.

And because no iPhones are involved, it’s a way of communicating that can’t possibly involve the poop emoji—that can be saved for the rest of the year.

NO MORE GUILT: HOW TO ENJOY SLEEP AWAY CAMP AS A PARENT

July 4, 2017By kristin

art camp barn and rainbow

Guilt. We’ve all experienced it when it comes to our kids, right? It can feel like it’s simply an inescapable part of being a parent, a companion about as welcome as, say, bed bugs, and just as difficult to vanquish.

Perhaps the worst part about parental guilt is that it often attaches itself to some of our greatest pleasures. This includes the joy with which we send our children off to summer camp, assured in the knowledge that they’re about to spend two or three or more weeks in a new and nourishing environment which they love.

But then the questions and comments from other parents, or even friends who don’t have kids, start. You know the ones: “But aren’t you going to miss them?” “I just don’t think I could be away from my kids for that long.” “Don’t your kids miss you?” “I’m sure my child would not be okay being apart from me for that length of time!”

“But aren’t you going to miss them?”

And, okay, sure, maybe passive-aggressiveness at this level shouldn’t bother us, but we’re only human! Plus, for most parents I know, there’s not much that we’re more sensitive about than the well-being of our kids and the quality of the level at which we’re raising them.

I mean, just consider this relatively short list of the seemingly infinite things that I—and many parents I know—feel guilty about when it comes to their kids:

  1. Not being involved enough with the school PTA
  2. Ordering Seamless as often as you cook an actual meal
  3. Knowing that, for you, “cooking an actual meal” often means steaming broccoli and making boxed mac and cheese (it’s, you know, organic, but still)
  4. Missing their bedtime because you went out to dinner with a friend
  5. Not knowing the name of their gym teacher/art teacher/math teacher
  6. Forgetting to bring sunscreen when you spend the first sunny day at the park
  7. Forgetting to bring snacks
  8. Forgetting to bring a water bottle or even money to buy water because who remembers to bring cash on a walk through the park (oh. every other parent? cool)
  9. Being bored at the playground/a Little League game/the second grade ukulele recital
  10. Pretending to be busy doing “work” on your phone, when really you’re just working on the New York Times crossword

I could go on! But I won’t, because, as I said, this list is basically infinite. It’s also kind of… absurd. Everything listed is something that might induce feelings of guilt, but nothing that would ruin your child’s life or make you deserve the dreaded (imaginary) label of “bad parent.”

It’s funny, really, that even something which we know to be a sign of “good parenting”—i.e. nurturing a love for the arts and fostering independence and extended periods of creativity—can lead to feelings of guilt. It makes some sense when you consider how much our identities as parents are tied into our identities on the whole. And so when we spend a few weeks without our kids, it isn’t just our image of ourselves as parents that needs to be reimagined—it’s our entire image of who we are, period.

It can be difficult to adjust to a guilt-free way of living—believe me, I know.

And this can be scary! Also, guilt-inducing. After spending so many years wrapped up in our identities in relation to someone else, when that person is gone, who do we become?

Um, we become ourselves again—and should do so unapologetically. Which is to say, sleep away camp is a time when parents can partake in all the activities which they might not be able to so easily do with their kids around. Maybe this means taking a weekend—or full week—away. Maybe this means multiple nights out in a row. Maybe this means staying in bed on Sunday morning binge-watching Game of Thrones. The choices are endless, really. And, most importantly, they’re yours.

It can be difficult to adjust to a guilt-free way of living—believe me, I know. It’s unfortunate that modern parenting comes with this particular type of stress. But if your guilt is related to sending your kids off for a few weeks each summer, just pause for a moment and reflect on whether or not this guilt is misplaced. It probably is! Particularly when you know your kids are having a great time without you, and that they’ll have a better time with you when they get back if you’ve actually managed to enjoy their time away.

And really, there’s so much to enjoy without kids around. I mean, may I reiterate: Game of Thrones is coming back soon. No regrets.

 

FORGET WINNING, CAMP IS ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY

July 4, 2017By kristin

art camp fun

“Are we there yet?” It’s a question every parent has heard time and time again. It’s become cultural shorthand for our children’s collective impatience, their universal desire to fast forward through the journey they’re on and just get to the destination already. It’s a refrain that’s become cliche, so frequently is it invoked to emphasize the way in which kids can’t seem to move through the world fast enough. It’s a joke and a punchline all in one four-word sentence. And it’s more than a little worrying.

Not to sound too wildly analytical, but let me just get wildly analytical for a minute here and say that the whole kids-saying-“are we there yet” trope reminds me of, oh, pretty much everything that makes me uncomfortable about raising kids in the hyper-reductively goal-oriented culture in which we live. To me, there’s nothing all that cute about kids not being able to enjoy the trip they’re on because they think the destination is the only worthy part of the journey. (And, side note: There’s nothing all that cute about adults who think this way either.)

Of course, it’s impossible to blame kids for this line of thinking. It’s quite literally how they’re taught—from a very young age—to view the world. They’re led to believe that games are to be played in order to win; meals are to be eaten as a way to “earn” dessert; education is a means to getting good grades on tests; and that the point of all races, both literal and metaphorical, is to be first to cross the finish line.

Not only is this an exhausting way to live, but it is also one that runs counter to the ways in which many (if not most—or even all?) kids actually experience and learn things. By negating the pleasures of the journey, by stressing the importance of “winning,” our society (right down to its fundamental unit, the family) puts pressure on kids to develop a competitive orientation toward achieving goals with little thought to how that might warp kids’ understanding of the myriad ways there are to go through life.

They’re led to believe that games are to be played in order to win… and that the point of all races, both literal and metaphorical, is to be first to cross the finish line.

This isn’t to say that results aren’t an important thing, just that they’re not the only important thing. And most kids spend a solid ten months of the year  focused on goals in school. A break from that can’t possibly be a bad thing.

Enter Ballibay: Since the camp’s philosophy is predicated on being process- rather than goal-oriented, and since campers have an abundance of time to seek out what it is—and isn’t—that they want to do, kids quickly get used a different pace of living than what they’re probably used to in their jam-packed at-home life. And they notice the difference.

Recently, I overheard my son explain to one of my friends what he liked so much about Ballibay. His answer revolved around the fact that, unlike other camps he’d attended (both day camps and one other sleep away), the great thing about Ballibay was the way in which he could actually take an afternoon and just do “nothing.”

Now, as a parent, there’s always going to be a question about what doing “nothing” actually entails. Was he really doing “nothing?” What would that even look like? Well, paradise, actually.

kitten at art camp

It turns out that “nothing” meant he was exploring the grounds, playing with the kittens, helping brush down the horses, visiting the art barn, learning new card games, talking for hours with friends, and otherwise just figuring out what it was he wanted to do, without having any authority figure telling him what he should be doing.

For kids, this ability to self direct is a huge and all too rare opportunity to learn how to make good use of their time without anyone else’s input. Since there are so many systems in place to make sure that there are an abundance of good options for the kids (this free time will not be spent watching TV, playing video games, or simply staring at their phones), there isn’t any fear that this unstructured time will lead to the kind of zombie zone outs to which I think many parents fear their kids will succumb if left to their own devices.

Instead, campers have the chance to really figure out how it is that they want to spend their Ballibay journey, and make the most out of all the hours of the day, not just the constructed end points. And hopefully this philosophy will extend into their outside-camp realities in such a way that rather than ask “are we there yet?” ever again, our kids will be more inclined to forget about what’s over “there,” and focus on engaging with the here and now.

CAMP FOOD COUNTS: AN INTRO TO MINDFUL EATING

July 3, 2017By kristin

art camp cooking

Ask any kid who’s gone to Ballibay (or at least ask one of my kids) what one of their favorite aspects of camp is and the answer is sure to contain the following two words: THE. FOOD.

This is not to say, of course, that food is the main focus of campers’ time at Ballibay, rather it’s to stress the importance of what it means that Ballibay promotes a healthy food culture—particularly in a time when we’re more aware than ever about the ways in which what we eat and where it comes from matters.

Mindful eating is healthy eating

And, you know, it’s natural that food would be a primary focus of campers: Not only are they all at that time in their life when they seem to be bottomless pits of calorie consumption (how else would they manage to get so tall?), but also eating is something that they have to do three times a day. It should be an activity about which they are conscientious; mindful eating is healthy eating, after all.

There are a multitude of ways in which Ballibay emphasizes the importance of mindful eating that make nutrition a collaborative and fun process for the kids—meaning it doesn’t feel like the idea of mindful eating is being, well, shoved down their throats.

One way is the camp garden, in which campers can gain an appreciation for what it means to eat locally and seasonally. They can also get very hand’s on with some of the food that will eventually be served in salads, side dishes, and snacks.

healthy salad at art camp

Another thing that kids can learn at Ballibay is how to feel empowered about their food choices. This isn’t the dining hall grub of movie summer camps. There’s no bug juice. There’s no mystery meat. Instead, there’s an abundance of thoughtfully prepared and balanced meals on offer that will probably introduce new foods and cooking techniques to many of the kids, while also being recognizable in a way that’s never threatening, but can potentially challenging in the best possible way. It’s always good to get out of our comfort zones, after all.

There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty to foster an appreciation of the kind of work that can and should go into food preparation

My elder son’s eating habits radically changed when he started attending Ballibay. Gone was the kid who would only choke down vegetables when presented with them. Suddenly, I had someone who sought out salad bars and was excited to try new things. This didn’t mean that he magically started loving food he’d always disliked (he’s just not a fan of raw tomatoes), but rather that he grew so used to being presented with and trying things that he himself had helped harvest from the ground, that this newfound experimentation extended into the rest of his life.

snacks at art camp - popcorn

Beyond these implicit ways of learning to appreciate and expand ideas about food, Ballibay is a healthy food camp offering explicit food education, in the form of its educational kitchen co-op. In the co-op, campers can learn food preparation techniques and work in small groups to prepare the snacks and desserts for the whole camp. Or, campers can work in the garden, where they have the opportunity to harvest everything from pumpkins to salad greens to grapes to potatoes. There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty to foster an appreciation of the kind of work that can and should go into food preparation. It’s a lot different than just tearing open a bag of chips, or even prepping dinner that’s been sent to your home from some meal delivery service.

Meal time should be about the food, yes, but it is also about the people with whom you share it

But perhaps the most important aspect of food culture at Ballibay is that it promotes a sense of community. Meal time should be about the food, yes, but it is also about the people with whom you share it. The importance of the social aspect of mealtime should not be underestimated. Everything from preparing the meal to serving it to enjoying it to cleaning up after it is something that can and will be shared with other people, and that sense of collaboration, and of appreciating everyone’s joint efforts is an invaluable experience.

These are the things campers at Ballibay are going to be reminded of as they grow older, that food is no more or less vital a part of our humanity than other shared cultural experiences. It is a thing of value around which a relationship must be built and encouraged. It is a serious part of our daily lives, but it is also an opportunity to have fun and experiment; to play around and dig in with gusto; to eat up and realize every day can taste this good.

food at art camp

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 overnight 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 at a summer camp for kids. (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 overnight 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 overnight 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 overnight 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.