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.

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

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.

CAMP FOOD COUNTS: AN INTRO TO MINDFUL EATING

July 3, 2017By kristin

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 offers 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