Emilie Smolders was so interested in art that, through her middle school years, she learned on her own how to use digital painting software and, in high school, delved into independent studies in art. She wanted to devote even more time to art, so she took a summer camp devoted to creating paintings of pets, held at a nearby art center.
“I ended up being the only high schooler with a bunch of elementary school kids. I very much enjoyed the camp, and it really reminded me of myself at that young age when I was first starting to draw and paint whenever I could,” said Smolders, who graduated from Mayo High School. Now a sophomore at St. Olaf College majoring in art, Smolders turned to that art center when looking for an internship possibility.
“My mom reminded me how much fun I had had at the Paint Your Pet camp,” Smolders said. Smolders, who will be working with youth this summer at the art center’s camps, plans a career as a professional artist.
But even for those youth who don’t intend to make a career of fine art, art camps can be a vital experience, fostering new ways of thinking, self-esteem, focus and self-expression. And there’s the crucial element for summer: Fun.
“The kind of people society needs to make it move forward are thinking, inventive people who seek new ways and improvements, not people who can only follow directions,” says MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author of numerous books about children’s art education, quoted in an article by Grace Hwang Lynch on pbsparents.org. “Art is a way to encourage the process and the experience of thinking and making things better!”
There are academic boosts for those who participate in the arts, as well, and various arts activities can help children develop skills ranging from fine-motor skills, critical thinking, and collaboration. A personal connection to the process can result in a greater commitment to learning a skill or thinking deeply about a subject. And once a project is completed, the sense of accomplishment can be huge.
This can be true no matter whether a child struggles or achieves easily in other areas.
“The arts are a great leveler, as we are all in the same boat, learning to create and succeed in new and unexpected ways,” says Dory Kanter, an educational consultant and arts/literacy curriculum writer and teaching trainer, quoted in an article by Cheryl Lock on artsedge.kennedy-center.org. “Children not only become appreciators of each other’s work, but also develop skills of self-reflection in the effort to bring their personal vision to fruition.”
The arts are a great way to come to understand others, so when kids get together at camp and work on a collaborative piece, help each other individually, or simply admire the work of the camper next to them, they’re building community as well as friendships. Smolders remembers how the younger children at the Paint Your Pet camp reached out to her.
“The kids were really fun, and very nice to me – they even planned out my life for me, when I’d get married, how many kids and how many pets I’d have,” Smolders laughed.
By Valerie McCarty, Publicity Coordinator, Crossings at Carnegie