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Make the most out of summer



Send your kids to a camp that fosters learning and creativity

Jillian Black's children learned how to sing, harmonize and memorize lines at a theater camp in Walden. They loved the camp so much, they now both take classes all year long.


Summer days full of dodgeball games and braiding friendship bracelets are great, but camps that foster learning and creativity are even better. Camps like this are a great way for kids to learn during the summer, bust summer brain drain, learn new skills and find talents they didn't even know they had.

Camps inspire a love for the arts
Jillian Black sent her 10-year-old son, Jonathan, and 7-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, to the Hudson Valley Conservatory's summer program for the past three years. She chose the Walden-based camp because her children love theater and acting.

"They learned various skills, such as reading scripts and memorizing lines," says the 37-year-old Newburgh-based mom. "They also learned how to sing and harmonize."

Kaelyn participated in the one-week, half-day theme camp that consisted of crafts, dance and music leading up to a performance for families on the last day.

Jonathan participated in the two-week, full-day theater camp that included a trip to New York City to see a Broadway show. "The final day of class, the students put on a full musical production," says Black. "Jonathan has performed in Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and The Wizard of Oz."

Her children loved the artsy camp so much that they carried over their skills and passion for the arts throughout the year. "After their second year of camp, they started participating in the program that runs from September through May where they participate in a holiday show, a fall and winter Coffeehouse and a spring recital."

READ MORE: 4 tips for choosing a summer camp

Learn through hands-on play
Renae Essinger, the founder of PlayWorks in Beacon, believes that any opportunity for a child to learn is valid and important, whether the knowledge or skills stay with them or not.

"Your brain is a muscle, and any use of it will only make it stronger," she says. "That being said, summertime learning is more likely to stay with children if it is hands-on, social and involves a lot of choice. Summer is supposed to be about playing and having fun, so if you want the learning to stay with them, then it should be an extension of that."

Essinger started PlayWorks last summer, but has been planning it for years. "I wanted it to be a place where kids could play uninterrupted - because ultimately, that is the one thing that all kids want to do - and for kids to be surrounded by activities and choices that were engaging and inspiring."

She believes that creative free play is important for all children.

"If kids are presented with intentional play choices, then their play is work and work is learning," she says. "At PlayWorks we imagine, create, think and solve problems. We do science experiments and art projects, play logic games and puzzles, build with Legos and blocks, and play outside. I do hope that they learn some science terminology and concepts, but that isn't the goal of my camp. My camp is about practicing creativity and problem solving."

READ MORE: 5 ways to find a camp that you can afford


Long term benefits of self-expression
Lisa Davis Albright, the owner and director of the Hudson River Performing Arts Center in Fishkill, says that kids who are involved in the arts are more creative and in touch with themselves as people. "They learn to express themselves and apply their feelings, whether they're positive or negative, in a constructive way towards a healthy result," she says. "Even our youngest students have opportunities to be creative in class. Structured play with props, including scarves or magic wands, helps them tap into the creativity they naturally possess. If they can learn to harness it at a young age, they will enjoy the long term benefits of self-expression."

She says that dance is a creative outlet that offers numerous physical benefits. It helps foster creativity and self-expression, in addition to increasing self-esteem, improving social skills and reducing stress and anxiety. "Today kids today need constructive outlets, away from social media and electronics, and dance camps offer the perfect opportunity for experienced students and beginners alike," says Albright.

The Hudson River Performing Arts Center offers numerous summer camps for all age groups which focus on dance training and the creative process. "Experienced and pre-
professional students may like to try their hand at choreography - the ultimate in creative expression for dancers. We offer a Choreography Clinic for our company dancers, where they learn the basics of constructing their own pieces, ranging from solos to group works, which often then get performed by our Repertory Company at community performances."

Beginning students can try a variety of dance styles at summer camps. "The creativity that dance offers should be nurtured year-round for best results," says Albright, who says that after students try a summer camp, parents should enroll them in year-long classes to really reap the benefits of dance training- self-discipline, technical skill, artistry, collaboration, self-confidence, and of course, creativity, to name a few.  

"Students should be encouraged to continue pursuing their own choreographic works, as well as dance works of others," she says. "Being around like-minded individuals in dance class can be inspiring and freeing." 

READ MORE: Top 3 books to prevent summer brain drain

Learning, playing, gaining experience

For Melissa McNeese, it was The Art Effect in Poughkeepsie - formerly known as Spark Media Project - that had a lasting effect on her two children. The Art Effect is an arts & education organization that focuses on nurturing creativity and building skillsets among youth through media arts and technology.

"They made a virtual reality public service announcement on bees in the summer of 2016," says McNeese, who lives in Red Hook. At the time her children Bass and William attended, they were 15 and 19.

"It was wonderful that they could do this together," she says. "It gave them experience with
cutting-edge technology. They worked as a team with the other kids under a tight deadline. Great real-life experience. They learned about the importance of bees in our ecosystem. Since both of my kids are interested in storytelling through visual media it was educational but also affirming that this is something they can see themselves doing in their futures."

Children want to learn, but they also want to play and Essinger encourages parents to find camps that allow children to do both. "Kids thrive with open-ended tasks and the ability to make choices," she says.

She also advises parents to look for camp opportunities for your child that are different from what they do at home or at school.

Lisa Iannucci is a local freelance writer. Her latest book, On Location: A Film & TV Lover's Travel Guide," will be released on February 1, 2018.