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

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.