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.

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

arts camp dance performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

arts camp music performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

art camp pottery

HOW TO HELP YOUR KIDS BETTER MANAGE THEIR TIME

December 1, 2017By kristin

art camp photography

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

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

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

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

art camp camper with cat

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

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

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

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

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

art camp gardening

WHY DANCE IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT ART FORM FOR KIDS

August 7, 2017By kristin

arts camp dance performance 1

Talk to most adults about dance education and they will probably vaguely recall having to learn ballroom dancing at the command of their parents, who envisioned… years of country club dances in their futures? Hard to say! Or perhaps they’ll recall learning to square dance in 6th grade gym, a unit stuck in between gymnastics and volleyball. (Was that just my gym experience? Maybe.) But few adults have much experience with actual dance training beyond that, unless they were more serious about its pursuit, and studied it on their own time. And this is a shame, because dance education is something that’s valuable for all of us, a truth handily proven at Ballibay.

As with other artistic mediums, like theatre, dance can provide kids with an education that surpasses its readily seen benefits. Because while, yes, studying dance can increase a student’s grace, poise, posture, and awareness of things like rhythm and the movements of their bodies, it can also teach children so much more.

There is a long tradition throughout the world of culture’s using dance to celebrate, to mourn, to tell stories, and to educate

Dance offers a lifelong lesson in kinesthetic intelligence, a type of education in what it is that the body can do both separate from and in tandem with the mind. It increases the ways in which children communicate with their own bodies, giving them a greater understanding of the importance of a gesture, a tilt of the head, a shift in weight from one foot to another. It also allows kids to better interpret another person’s body language, a skill that is bound to come in handy at countless points throughout their lives.

arts camp dance performance 2

More so than that, dance is an art form that has been present at every stage of civilization; partaking in its beauty is a way of connecting to humans past, present, and future. There is a long tradition throughout the world of culture’s using dance to celebrate, to mourn, to tell stories, and to educate. Dancing is as much a part of the human condition as song and speech; learning this language is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in better understanding our collective humanity.

For kids who are not interested in competitive sports, dance also offers an alternative means of exercising and engaging the body, something that is invaluable in this rather sedentary age. The demands made on a dancer’s body are specific to the medium, and they teach a dancer to pay attention to the signals their body is giving them, until listening to these cues becomes second nature.

For kids who are not interested in competitive sports, dance also offers an alternative means of exercising

And like other art forms, dancing is strongly correlated to problem solving, and thus the intellectual engagement a dancer has is related to their need to identify patterns, and find solutions for the questions at hand.

There’s a (very) corny saying that’s been floating around the internet for the last few years, and you’ve probably seen it quoted on some Facebook friend or another’s wall: “Dance like nobody’s watching.” This maxim is, I guess, supposed to encourage people to live life freely, and not to care about what anyone else around you thinks about what it is you’re doing—even if that’s dancing like a whirling dervish. And I understand the sentiment, I really do. But the beautiful thing about dance, and what anyone who studies it will soon understand, is that dancing is something that is best not done in a vacuum, and indeed can not be done in one—the dancer herself is always watching. Rather, dance is an art of mindfulness; it is about being present and attuned to yourself and those around you, and letting the body lead the way as you move through the world, one step at a time.

arts camp dance 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.