Arts-Based Camps Invite Kids to Paint, Act or Dance Through Summer
Is your child more of a Picasso than Archimedes or Usain Bolt? Maybe you’ve heard about the cognitive and social benefits arts-based camps offer and you’d like your child to experience them. Whether you’re raising an artist, mathematician or athlete, an arts-based camp may be just what your child needs to balance out, or further enrich, his developing brain.
Plentiful arts-based camp options abound in North Carolina. Your student can train with musical masters at UNC-Greensboro and University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, or participate in summer acting programs at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory in Raleigh, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte or East Carolina University in Greenville. If your child likes to dance, internationally acclaimed instructors offer summer programs as part of the American Dance Festival in Durham.
Whether you’re enriching an already-artistic-child’s journey or just making an introduction, North Carolina claims a variety of exceptional programs to choose from. Deciding which dream to chase may be the toughest decision your young artist has to make.
More Than Music
Music’s benefits have long been obvious to parents who have crooned soft melodies to soothe agitated babies and later observed the positive effects of an arts education on their growing children. Now, recent studies document the benefits of music on a child’s cognitive and social development, particularly when experienced at a young age and over a long period of time.
Research presented at the 2013 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience reported positive changes to the brain and sensorimotor capabilities of subjects who participate in musical training. Lead author Julie Roy of the University of Montreal presented research suggesting that musical training improves the nervous system’s ability to integrate information from all senses into an understandable whole.
Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Ph.D, of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says music stimulates reward systems in the brain. An expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity, Schlaug wrote the following in a conference statement from the 2013 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience:
“Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions — from finger tapping to dancing — and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time.”
Another study presented by Yunxin Wang of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University in China, suggests that musical training at an early age yields positive affects on brain development. Wang and colleagues investigated the effects of musical training on the brain’s structure in 48 Han Chinese adults between the ages of 19 and 21 who had formal musical training for at least one year between the ages of 3 and 15. Researchers found that the volume of brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness were larger in those adults who began taking music lessons before age 7.
The advantages of music education on cognitive function have been well documented by previous studies as well. These studies show that children who have experienced musical education often score higher on IQ and standardized tests. A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, showed that students in elementary schools with high-quality music education programs scored approximately 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to students attending schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities between the schools.
Shirley Brice Heath, a Margery Bailey Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, Emeritus; and Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at Stanford University, discovered that young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours, three days each week for one full year are:
- Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
- Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair.
- Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance.
- Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
The California Alliance for Arts Education recently asserted that arts education helps students become globally competitive by developing their ability to innovate, communicate and collaborate. Lauren Richardson of Raleigh has witnessed the academic benefits of music and arts on her four children, but values the social benefits most.
Her son, a participant in the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory for the Performing Arts’ Summer Theatre Arts School, recently scored his first paid professional gig with a role in Frosty the Snowman by Broadway Series South in Raleigh. Richardson says she saw dramatic improvement in his maturity thanks to this experience.
“It was a complete turnaround as far as his focus and maturity this year in school after doing (Summer Theater Arts School at the conservatory),” she says.
Her three daughters have also benefited from studies in music and arts. Her oldest daughter is a successful playwright in New York City and her 18-year-old daughter studies musical theater at American University. Richardson’s youngest daughter transformed from a reticent 4-year-old to a confident, young woman, in large part because of her experiences at the conservatory.
“She experienced tremendous growth in just one week of improv,” Richardson says.
The conservatory directors have a Broadway background, which creates a high level of professionalism and authentic theater experiences. “The kids learn a lot about working together with other people and what it takes to collaborate on a project,” Richardson says. “They are doing very grown-up work.”
Ray Walker, artistic director for the conservatory who made his Broadway debut as “Marius” in the hit musical Les Miserables and who played “Annas” in Jesus Christ Superstar and “Doody” in Grease!, says the conservatory originated as an offshoot from the popular summer theater camp run by North Carolina Theatre in the 1980s.
One current conservatory student, 12-year-old Reed Shannon, who has been with the conservatory since age 4, recently booked a national tour starring as a young Michael Jackson in Motown.
“What we are trying to do (at the conservatory), our goal, is to create working actors, dancers and performers who can get jobs and have viable careers, and we have had some success with that,” he says.
The popularity of arts-based camps indicates that children are gravitating toward what they inherently know is good for them. A 2005 Harris Poll revealed that 93 percent of Americans consider the arts to be vital to providing a well-rounded education and a critical link to learning and success. When it comes to shaping young minds, arts-based camps have become an essential piece of the puzzle.
Carol McGarrahan is a freelance writer in the Triangle.
Arts-Based Camps Across NC
Research shows that arts-based education can wire the brain for creativity in ways we are only beginning to understand, and programs across North Carolina can help students explore the arts. Here are some to consider.
Playmakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory: playmakersrep.org/outreach/syc
Raleigh Area Children’s Theatre: raleighact.com
Raleigh Little Theatre: raleighlittletheatre.org
North Carolina Theatre Conservatory for the Performing Arts' Summer Theatre Arts School in Raleigh: nctheatre.com/education
UNC-Greensboro Summer Music Camp: smcamp.org
ECU Summer Drama Camp: ecu.edu/cs-cfac/theatredance/outreach/Summer-Drama-Camp.cfm
American Dance Festival Summer School: americandancefestival.org/education/school/2014-summer
University of North Carolina School of the Arts Summer Session: uncsa.edu/summersession
For additional arts resources, browse our Camps Directories and Enrichment Directory, and check your city’s parks and recreational classes for youth. Read our feature, Kids Camp in Carolinas and Virginia Offer Unique Overnight Experiences.