July 4, 2017By Kerin

art camp fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kitten at art camp

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

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

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


July 3, 2017By Kerin

art camp cooking

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

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

Mindful eating is healthy eating

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

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

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

healthy salad at art camp

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

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

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

snacks at art camp - popcorn

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

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

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

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

food at art camp


June 13, 2017By Kerin

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.