The Joy Is in the Journey (Not the Destination!)

November 12, 2018By ballibay

Not to spread too much shade, but American culture just loves “cash and prizes.” That is, we are a meritocracy: results are what matters. Winners are “winners;” losers are “losers.” This philosophy underlies the basic “rating and ranking” system of large corporations, which is used to determine who gets promoted and who gets a raise. Somebody rises to the very top of the pile; somebody must also sink to the very bottom. It is foundational to competitive television shows such as “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.” Out of thousands, only one single “winner” can emerge, survive, and go on to great things. Or so we like to believe.

While this Darwinist philosophy might drive business success (although we have our doubts about even that), we believe that in the realms of creative art and personal growth (maturation), this philosophy results in something approaching disaster. The arts – of all kinds – are avenues of unrestricted creativity, exploration and personal expression, not arenas of gladiatorial combat.

We believe that American culture’s heavy focus on “results” (with attendant “success” and “failure”) leads to perfectionism and a claustrophobic focus on “getting it absolutely correct.” Paradoxically, this attitude does NOT stimulate greater creativity, experimentation and learning. In fact, it achieves the exact opposite: a life-choking constriction (narrowing) of focus, and jettisoning of experimentation, exploration and learning, in the utterly futile effort to create that one, single, absolutely-perfect in-every-conceivable-way outcome. Here at Camp Ballibay, we believe that learning MEANS, by definition, doing something “not-quite-right,” over and over and over again, in a very long, slow process of gradually doing it better and better, WITHOUT any end-point.

There is a funny but true story in this regard. The alto saxophone jazz master Sonny Fortune, who is in his late 70’s, and who has been performing for over 50 years, said in a recent interview something along the lines of “Someday I’m going to learn this horn!” ‘Nuff said. Apparently, he is still exploring, still learning, still opening up new avenues of personal expression.

The ”cash and prizes” attitude also fosters a competitive spirit, which while it may be useful in a business endeavor, spells disaster for creative arts and human development. Suddenly, instead of being about an unending, free-flowing stream of individual expression and experimentation and creativity, which are internal processes that are unique to each and every individual, the focus suddenly gets shifted toward working to meet an externally-defined outcome that generally has nothing to do with the individual, and nothing to do with expression and creativity. No – suddenly the atmosphere becomes more akin to a series of production lines, where each individual is following all the rules to create roughly the same outcome as their peer, but “a little bit better” than them. So they can win. This is the complete opposite of internally generated motivation. Instead, it shifts toward external motivation and the death of personal expression.

The actual “doing” (i.e. the process) of artistic creation is the true reward of art – not the outcome. Experimentation, expression, creativity and learning (and fun) happen during the process of creation. The ultimate product, while nice to have, isn’t really the point of art. Particularly for the performing arts, once the performance happens, it disappears! It no longer exists. In the performing arts, the art lies quite literally, in the PROCESS! We regard the creative arts as continual, unbroken, unending “rehearsal.” The arts are simply an ongoing, unending process of expression, experimentation, creativity and learning. There is no end-point, and no such thing as “mastery.”

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.

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.

 

FORGET WINNING, CAMP IS ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY

July 4, 2017By kristin

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.