The Joy Is in the Journey (Not the Destination!)

November 12, 2018By ballibay

Not to spread too much shade, but American culture just loves “cash and prizes.” That is, we are a meritocracy: results are what matters. Winners are “winners;” losers are “losers.” This philosophy underlies the basic “rating and ranking” system of large corporations, which is used to determine who gets promoted and who gets a raise. Somebody rises to the very top of the pile; somebody must also sink to the very bottom. It is foundational to competitive television shows such as “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.” Out of thousands, only one single “winner” can emerge, survive, and go on to great things. Or so we like to believe.

While this Darwinist philosophy might drive business success (although we have our doubts about even that), we believe that in the realms of creative art and personal growth (maturation), this philosophy results in something approaching disaster. The arts – of all kinds – are avenues of unrestricted creativity, exploration and personal expression, not arenas of gladiatorial combat.

We believe that American culture’s heavy focus on “results” (with attendant “success” and “failure”) leads to perfectionism and a claustrophobic focus on “getting it absolutely correct.” Paradoxically, this attitude does NOT stimulate greater creativity, experimentation and learning. In fact, it achieves the exact opposite: a life-choking constriction (narrowing) of focus, and jettisoning of experimentation, exploration and learning, in the utterly futile effort to create that one, single, absolutely-perfect in-every-conceivable-way outcome. Here at Camp Ballibay, we believe that learning MEANS, by definition, doing something “not-quite-right,” over and over and over again, in a very long, slow process of gradually doing it better and better, WITHOUT any end-point.

There is a funny but true story in this regard. The alto saxophone jazz master Sonny Fortune, who is in his late 70’s, and who has been performing for over 50 years, said in a recent interview something along the lines of “Someday I’m going to learn this horn!” ‘Nuff said. Apparently, he is still exploring, still learning, still opening up new avenues of personal expression.

The ”cash and prizes” attitude also fosters a competitive spirit, which while it may be useful in a business endeavor, spells disaster for creative arts and human development. Suddenly, instead of being about an unending, free-flowing stream of individual expression and experimentation and creativity, which are internal processes that are unique to each and every individual, the focus suddenly gets shifted toward working to meet an externally-defined outcome that generally has nothing to do with the individual, and nothing to do with expression and creativity. No – suddenly the atmosphere becomes more akin to a series of production lines, where each individual is following all the rules to create roughly the same outcome as their peer, but “a little bit better” than them. So they can win. This is the complete opposite of internally generated motivation. Instead, it shifts toward external motivation and the death of personal expression.

The actual “doing” (i.e. the process) of artistic creation is the true reward of art – not the outcome. Experimentation, expression, creativity and learning (and fun) happen during the process of creation. The ultimate product, while nice to have, isn’t really the point of art. Particularly for the performing arts, once the performance happens, it disappears! It no longer exists. In the performing arts, the art lies quite literally, in the PROCESS! We regard the creative arts as continual, unbroken, unending “rehearsal.” The arts are simply an ongoing, unending process of expression, experimentation, creativity and learning. There is no end-point, and no such thing as “mastery.”

Unstructured/Creative Time vs. Structured/Planned Time

October 17, 2018By ballibay

A recent NY Times book review[1] laments that “this is a generation engaged in a meritocratic “arms race” of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn’t. “When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association, …along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise.”

In simpler terms, it is saying that here in the United States, the balance between structured/planned time and unstructured/creative/play time has tilted – radically – toward the former, crowding out nearly any vestige of the latter. Here at Camp Ballibay, we share that deep concern; however, we are completely committed to doing something about it, to help restore the balance.

This harkens back to the old metaphor between the functions/capabilities of the left vs. right brain. While science has determined that the connection between those differing capabilities and the hemispheres of the brain is not quite so straightforward, the metaphor still works for helping illuminate some fundamental, complementary mental capabilities.

So-called “left-brain” capabilities focus on language, logic, linearity, analysis, detail, objectivity, facts and mathematics. So-called “right-brain” capabilities are focused on imagination, daydreaming, holistic thinking, intuition, arts, rhythm, relationships, and feelings visualization. As may be clear to you, our science and technology focused culture has sort of “deified” the left-brain functions, and kind of banished (or strongly deprecated) the right-brained ones.

For instance, public schools are having significant struggles in trying to get funding for any arts-related programs like music, visual arts, and theater. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) drives core curriculum, and indeed, pretty much the sole focus of the current job market. Children and young people spend more and more and more time on highly structured (left-brain) activities (which includes all-day-long interacting with their technological media (smart phones, tablets)). Actual unstructured, creative, free, playful, imaginative, social (i.e. face-to-face, not texting) activities have shrunk almost to the vanishing point.

Again, here at Camp Ballibay, we are committed to restoring the balance. In fact, we have discovered a clever way to combine the two complementary functions into a single, integrated whole: children are responsible for structuring their day (left-brain) to include pre-planned times for creative play and socializing (right-brain)! We are, after all, an arts camp, with all that entails, but we require campers to plan their own day, and then to stick to that plan.

We don’t want to over-correct the current imbalance by denying, suppressing or denigrating the left-brain; after all, it is 50% of our brain! All we want to do is to restore the balance to something closer to 50/50, and to get the two sides of the brain to communicate and to integrate, which we strongly believe was the purpose of the original design and functioning of the brain in the first place.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/27/books/review/splintering-william-egginton-coddling-greg-lukianoff-jonathan-haidt.html

Make Room for Creative, Messy (and Fun!) Self Expression

September 26, 2018By ballibay

You may or may not have noticed this, but our increasingly technological society and culture are focusing ever narrower and narrower on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is certainly true of jobs and education. Middle and high schools are cutting back more and more on music, visual arts, creative writing, and other so-called irrelevant or “useless pastimes.” In an ever-more competitive world, children are slotted and prepped from birth for entry into the hallowed halls of Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Wharton and several other “prestige” (technology and business-focused) colleges and universities. We are taught now that the only way to get ahead in life is to learn coding – as in computer programs and mobile apps. 

Parallel to this trend and supporting it is a growing tendency to limit the definition of excellence in communication to a narrow, succinctly articulable message – as though every document were a technical manual for assembling or operating a machine. This is STEM-driven communication. Precision, specificity, particularity, linearity and logic are what’s now defined as “good”. There is one – and only one – single, precise meaning or interpretation behind this kind of communication.

You get the picture. Here at Ballibay arts camp, we see things a little differently. We fully understand the overarching importance of STEM to education, careers and communication. Yes, they are extremely important. We get it.

However, here at Camp Ballibay, we take issue with what we believe is the total myopia of the belief that STEM is the beginning and the end of all things twenty-first century. Everything discussed so far is “left-brain” stuff: linear, logical, analytical, precise. Mechanistic. And creativity and authentic self-expression are roughly “right-brain” stuff that picks up where left-brain stuff ends: creativity, self-expression, play, non-linearity, illogical, emotional, relational, symbolic. Even in the world of business, which is largely left-brain oriented, executives, leadership consultants and academic types are realizing that innovation, which has become the modern “holy grail”, rests largely upon the foundation of right-brained, creative capabilities.

And THAT is where Ballibay Arts Camp comes into play and succeeds. We value and support and LOVE the right-brain! We strongly support and encourage fun, relationships, self-expression, creativity in all their glorious imprecision, symbolism, multiple meanings and interpretations, open-endedness, and plain old fun!

It seems important to encourage both of these very human impulses – the impulse towards linearity and focus, and the impulse to play and explore freely. Without the latter, would we have a Picasso, a Van Gogh, a Beethoven, the Beatles, or Simon & Garfunkel? Would we have Shakespeare, Chaucer, or James Joyce? With schools turning increasingly towards STEM, we need another time and space in the year to encourage the non-linear approach to life. Camp can offer this. At Ballibay we create a safe and welcoming summer space that allows a flavor of freedom that kids are not getting in the schools, but within structure and order that kids need to feel cared for.

FOUR VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS YOUR CHILD CAN LEARN AT BALLIBAY ARTS CAMP

August 31, 2018By ballibay

When your child goes to a sleepaway arts camp, they will come home with more than just fun stories; they will return home with valuable life skills. We may not realize it straight away, but the skills our children can learn while at sleepaway camp — and at our arts camp — are ones that we can appreciate for years to come. Sleepaway camps foster friendships, independence, communication, problem-solving, and responsibility, just to name a few, while arts camp adds to those skills, with creativity, confidence, focus and much more. The safe, fun, and creative environment at an arts camp allow these skills to grow through many conversations, individual decisions, explorations, art programs, activities, and free time.

Communication

Without parents around to “help,” young campers learn how to communicate for themselves. They develop the confidence to explore, take initiative, and communicate with those around them, including both adults and children. Especially in theater, music and rock camp, children learn to engage with others through multiple conversations and through the process of learning and enacting their jointly-created art. our child’s confidence and communication skills will improve so much that they will learn how to resolve issues, effectively communicate needs, and create better relationships with those around them.

Confidence

Theater camp and music or rock camp are amazing for building confidence. Through learning, practicing and playing on a daily basis and learning how to communicate with their peers, teachers and counselors, campers step out of their comfort zones, learn from mistakes, and adapt and grow into confident young adults. Developing the confidence to perform in front of others can translate into multiple aspects of life, whether in the performing arts or giving presentations for school.

Creative Expression

Creative expression is the very foundation of the arts, and Ballibay Arts Camp is designed to foster creative expression in our campers. We allow our campers to explore and express their creativity and work in any way they choose; we do not place any limits on them; rather we learn about their interests, support their decisions, and work with them to develop the skills they need to see a project through. We allow our campers to be unconstrained by anyone else’s categories, definitions, constraints, or prohibitions. Campers develop and create their own personal artistic expression, however they see fit to do it. See our blog about embracing children who are “different” thinkers.

Problem-solving & Critical Thinking

When young artists have a vision or an idea, they are faced with the practical problem of translating that vision into objective reality, whether that is a song, musical composition, painting, sculpture, video, movie, play, or something else. This “translation” process combines continuous problem-solving with ongoing, unfolding creativity. And this is generally done in a highly individual way, with little outside guidance or support. This ability to combine creativity with practical problem-solving (which includes critical thinking) is central to the life of an artist, but also is an immensely important life lesson for all of us.

Sleepaway camp and arts camps provide the perfect spaces for any child or young adult to grow and develop as an artist and person, developing important skills each and every day. These young campers will develop these skills more and more as they progress through life, shaping them into well-rounded individuals.

THE VALUE OF FREE TIME AT ARTS CAMP

August 29, 2018By ballibay

arts camp kids on hay

While Camp Ballibay campers are certainly welcome to fill their day with a variety of arts and summer camp activities, most prefer to balance their days out with some free time. We encourage campers to plan their days how they wish, whether they choose to spend a majority of the day in the theater, creating musical compositions, painting, or if they want to spend more time relaxing with friends or reading a book. Free time plays an important role in the lives of aspiring young artists, which is why it is one of the main aspects of our performing arts camp philosophy.

We all remember going outside for recess during grade school…that free time to play with friends was one of the best parts of the day. Kids get to be kids and have the time to recharge and blow off steam after sitting in classrooms for most of the day. On top of providing a space for children to explore their creativity, we encourage our young artists to take the time to explore new interests, make their own decisions, and have as much fun as possible.

Your child’s time at summer arts camp is meant to help them explore and grow, so we place no restrictions on how your child spends the day. Campers can go swimming, ride horses, play sports, write music, hang out with friends, read a book – the sky is the limit. We integrate free time into their learning experience at arts camp to foster imagination and creativity, among other developmental skills.  

This free time not only provides a small respite, but can teach a child time management, i.e. learning how to balance free time with “work” time. Free time is important throughout a person’s life, and so it should be encouraged starting at a young age. Sometimes, it is during that free time, when our minds are at ease, that we come up with some of our best ideas because we have taken the time to step back.

Whether at art camp, theater camp, rock camp, or dance camp, our campers can enjoy traditional day camp and sleepaway camp activities in addition to their arts camp programs. Camp Ballibay wants to help your children grow as artists and as people by offering a well-rounded summer camp experience where they get to experience a little of everything.

Free time allows children the time to think, relax, dream up new ideas, and can make them happier and less stressed, which is all we want as parents. We want them to consider all options and come to decisions on their own. Free time allows for this. Each and every day our campers make decisions on how to spend their open, unstructured moments, taking into account their options, and choosing an activity that will make them happy.

Here at Camp Ballibay arts camp, we value creativity, freedom, relaxation, and most of all, fun. We want our campers to make new friends, enjoy time with others on creative art projects and productions, pick up new skills, discover new passions, explore different activities & options, and create memories that will last a lifetime. By allowing them to create their own daily schedules and integrate free time into their days, Camp Ballibay campers learn valuable lessons in time management and finding balance, which is a lesson and skill we could all use and integrate into our daily lives.

TECH HAS TAKEN OVER, BUT ART IS STILL RELEVANT

April 1, 2018By kristin

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.

CONFLICT CAN ACTUALLY BE GOOD FOR KIDS

March 17, 2018By kristin

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.

 

IS THERE A GOOD TIME TO PREPARE KIDS FOR A CAREER?

February 22, 2018By kristin

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.

IS THERE ANY VALUE TO AN EDUCATION IN THE ARTS?

December 31, 2017By kristin

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.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR KID IS A “DIFFERENT” THINKER

December 26, 2017By kristin

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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.

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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.

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