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.

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

June 13, 2017By kristin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2017By kristin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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