No More Arts and Crafts... Moving From Cookie Cutter to Endless Possibilities

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Arts and Crafts Isn't for Everyone

Growing up at camp, Makerspace SignI loved arts and crafts. If I could have chosen where to spend my day, I would have never left the craft den. As a senior camper I always choose the Pottery elective, which meant that I got to hang out more with the cool, laid back counselors and listen to their music and impress them with my competence at working with my hands. I loved it.

Jack, like many other kids at camp, struggled in the Arts and Craft environment. He felt overwhelmed by the glitter covered floors, and had come to think that being artistic was something you were born with, not something you could work on, or improve. Jack worked hard to make Arts and Crafts miserable for people like me.

After traveling across the country, one of the things that we noticed about camps was that arts and craft sheds were rarely a camp director's pride and joy as they toured us around. Instead we heard from a lot of camps that they were looking to improve arts and crafts soon, but they didn't know where they'd find the money, and they didn't know what they could do besides buy better looking pre-designed crafts.

What's the Point of Arts and Crafts?

Makerspace PaintThat lead us to think about WHY Arts and Crafts exists. What is the point? Is it to send a child home with a nice looking craft to hang on the fridge? Or is it something more? Some camps we saw took arts and crafts to the next level. Inherent in those environments were competent and capable campers who felt empowered to invent solutions and see more possibilities. We wondered what was different about their craft dens? How could you bottle up that energy and make it accessible to all camp Art’s and Craft Departments?

Pre-designed crafts look nice when completed, but lack individuality or ingenuity. They look nice on the fridge or as a gift to take home to mom but the message that they send kids is the opposite of empowerment. It's coated in extrinsic motivation with a side of defeat when it doesn't look like the picture on the box. What if we let kids play more, invent more, and decide for themselves what to make? What if we provided the materials, the space, and the mentors to guide discovery and curiosity and let the kids imagine what is possible?

The Maker Movement at Summer Camp

Enter Makerspaces. A Maker movement is crawling across the world. People are reclaiming their roots as makers and shapers of the world around them. Makers gather in spaces where tools can be stored and techniques can be shared. Maker-faires, where makers share their inventions, creations and ideas with other make-enthusiasts have cropped up all over the United States and abroad. A lot of the movement has to do with technology and how to use computers, 3D printers, and high tech power tools to manipulate your environment. I think having those resources at camp would be amazing (though, unfortunately, out of a lot of our price ranges).

I propose giving kids the same chance to find what they are passionate about and the freedom to explore those passions in depth in a Makerspace that every camp can afford. Creating this space at camp has the power to change kids minds about what they are capable of changing their mindsets from fixed to growth.

Makerspace MaterialsYou already have everything that you need to transform the space this summer. The work that you need to put in for this summer is all about creating the culture. By focusing on the staff and the space and culture of your Art Department, you can take your crafts department from cookie cutter to endless possibilities.  You can also empower both the “Jacks” and the “Lauras” to excel and find joy in a Makerspace.

Turning your Arts and Crafts area into a Makerspace will allow kids to find and explore things they are motivated to pursue. It will allow for kids to work collaboratively, or individually. It will recognize and validate campers passions and dreams and it will unlock for kids the thought that they have the power to do make and be what they want with their lives.

I am not advocating that you throw out pre-designed crafts, by the way. If a kid is pumped about completing a pre-fab bird house, then by all means, let them make one. Instead, I am suggesting that you let the campers have the autonomy to decide what to make. I am suggesting that Arts and Crafts at camp could be a powerful and intentional piece of your program, one that meets your mission and leaves kids with lasting memory of empowerment and a feeling that they are capable.

A Makerspace at Your Camp

A Makerspace at camp is a place where kids are FREE to engage in meaningful and self chosen work. A COMMUNITY of people collaborating and supporting each other. A place where people can develop and practice skills that lead to COMPETENCE.

In practice, when kids arrive at the Makerspace counselors greet them with a small explanation that sounds something like this: “In the Makerspace you are free to make what you want. The possibilities are endless. Dream big. Here you are an inventor, an architect, an engineer, a painter, a poet and world creator.  We have a variety of materials and tools available for you to explore and use. I want to take you on a quick tour to familiarize you with the space and materials.” Check out the video below of how camp Kitaki organized their Makerspace retreat.

Makerspace from YMCA Camp Kitaki on Vimeo.

I suggest that you have a system of certifications available for kids that are interested in using things like hot glue gun, exacto knife and spray paint. It is important to reiterate to your staff that in the makerspace staff do not become lifeguards, supervising from the side lines, but that their job is to engage, connect and find ways to say YES to campers. One big take away for me last summer was that it was important to be transparent with kids in terms of the material and time limitations. Let you campers know what is possible so that they can make reachable goals.

Makerspace Games

Making is a process, a process that is much more important than the final product. By creating a place at camp where kids feel free and encouraged to experiment, be curious, create, and invent, they will begin to understand that everything stems from the ability to turn an idea into a reality.

I would love to hear about your process of moving from cookie cutter to endless possibilities. Please leave a comment below with thoughts, ideas, successes and struggles you are having in this transition.


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