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Picasso Potential?

Nurture your child’s artistic bent in a fine-arts camp this summer.


When it comes to summer camp, many adults have fond memories of swimming and campfires, but today there are an increasing number of programs that provide more specialized activities to suit your child’s individual interests, from martial arts to horseback riding to piano or violin. If your child has shown a penchant for drawing or painting, definitely consider enrolling her in one of New Jersey’s numerous fine-arts camps this summer.

“There are many kids who really just need to be outside running off tons of energy...but for the child who loves art, an arts camp can help kindle her love into a passion with backbone,” says Eric Gibbons, author of The Art Student’s Workbook and owner of The Firehouse Gallery in Bordentown, which offers a summer art camp for students ages 7–16 with classes in painting, drawing, sculpture, and themes like Asian arts, Egyptian arts, art that can fly, and others.

Like traditional summer camps, a fine-arts camp will provide your child with plenty of opportunities to make new friends, learn new skills, and develop self-confidence, and he’ll also come home with a deeper appreciation for art—and plenty of masterpieces of his own.

Kids not only get their hands dirty with various media, they develop skills they take back into schoolwork come September.

At Appel Farm Arts Camp in Elmer, classes in everything from fine arts and music to theater and dance are combined with workshops, trips, performances, and special events for children ages 9–17. “Campers have a transformative experience [at an arts camp]…they gain self-confidence, self-awareness, and independence,” says Jennie Quinn, co-camp director for Appel Farm Arts Camp. “They learn social skills, make friends, and develop their passion to learn, while learning to express themselves and developing their artistic talents.”

Indeed, fine-arts camps are not only about giving kids the opportunity to get their hands dirty and experiment with different mediums. As they learn about painting or pottery, they’re also developing skills that will translate back into their schoolwork come September—and that might just continue to shape the young adults they  ultimately become. “We teach fine arts, but with a focus on self expression…we want every project to be unique, original, expressive, and personally meaningful to the young artist,” Gibbons says. “Technique is certainly part of it, but the ability to problem-solve and express themselves takes precedence.”

The benefits of an art education are widely documented; numerous studies have demonstrated that, along with helping kids build self-confidence and self-discipline, art education can stimulate a child’s imagination and critical-thinking while refining cognitive and creative skills and developing a sense of craftsmanship, quality task performance, and goal-setting. According to the national organization Americans for the Arts, exploring the arts can also foster team-building skills and help children respect alternative viewpoints and appreciate different cultures and traditions.

“Creative problem-solvers are proven to be better apt at making decisions in the real world,” adds Brandon Dorney, who owns Art Kids Academy in Rutherford along with his wife, Jennifer. According to Dorney, camps like his “provide students with the opportunity to think creatively, make connections to real life, and apply their art-making abilities in a real-life setting. Kids are naturally curious about their environment, so what better way to explore their ideas than through art?”

Art Kids Academy hosts hands-on workshops that infuse technology with art history, math, and literature; this summer, the academy’s “Dig into Art” summer workshop series will revolve around exploring artwork from different countries, so campers will learn about aboriginal dot paintings from Australia, design their own Greek vase, and create a portrait of Egypt’s King Tut. The academy will also be hosting a week-long art camp in Rutherford for children ages 7–12; campers make clay coil pots, create animal drawings, paint portraits, use scratch plates for printing, and more. “Artistic kids will be able to hone their natural art abilities and begin to build their own fine-art portfolios…students not only make art, but draw connections to their art from their real world environment,” Dorney adds.

Even if your child ultimately becomes more interested in sports or science, or decides that he no longer wants to be a painter when he grows up, the benefits of a summer spent exploring the fine arts are undeniable. “We have no illusions that our students will all become Picassos or Rembrandts someday; maybe one in 10 of our students actually goes on to an art-related career,” Gibbons says. “But we do know that creative problem-solving is a skill that is highly prized, and is best taught through the arts…and doctors, lawyers, teachers, investment bankers, scientists, presidents, and other professions are all led by those creative problem-solvers.”

Jennifer L. Nelson is a New Jersey-based freelance writer specializing in parenting and lifestyle issues.


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