Visible learning

Art camps foster creativity, personal exploration and community


The sturdy table is covered in colorful art supplies. A small group of 5-yearold girls and boys gently dip their brushes in vivid reds, yellows and blues.

Deep in focus, everyone is painting the surfaces of their wooden birdhouses. The spacious room is quiet. Jack Johnson tunes fill the background. Anna, one of the workshop participants, delicately adds green glitter around the edges of her birdhouse. A big smile appears as she shares her piece of art with her parents, who are relaxing in the entrance area while sipping tea.

This is a common scene at Tinker Art Studio, one of Boulder’s spots for children’s art classes and camps.

“Art provides a vehicle for children to be expressive, anywhere from preverbal to later developmental stages,” says Christie Slater, a certified art teacher and founder and director of Tinker. The popular art studio will offer themed camp options this summer, including “Drop the Beat: Drumming & Art Camp,” “Heads, Hands & Heart: Yoga & Art Camp” and “Into the Garden,” a camp that introduces children age 3-5 to the fine art of creative landscaping.

“Art also enables us to learn about other cultures and diversity,” says Slater, who is also a licensed arts integration specialist. “It levels the playing field. Everyone can come to the table.”

The positive impact of learning through the arts has been explored by Shirley Brice Heath, a professor of English and dramatic literature at Stanford University.

“Effective youth arts organizations build strong pro-civic and pro-social values in young people, enhancing opportunities for youth to reshape the climate of their neighborhoods,” Heath says.

“Art also allows kids to think outside the box and to come up with new ideas. They need avenues to express themselves. This is easily done through art,” says Mike Jacobsma, Alexander Dawson Summer School summer camps and programs director. The Dawson Summer School program added a “Young Filmmaker Academy” for 8- to 12-year-old students to its 2014 curriculum.

“Most kids are curious and excited about technology, this is why we included film-making as an option.

Participants will be able to edit on computers and produce a movie by the end of camp week,” he says.

Dawson will also introduce a circus camp this year. Interested 5-to-10-year-old students can explore stilt-walking, juggling, balancing, acrobatic skills, tumbling and clowning. This camp will be directed by Laura Presley-Reynolds, a graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.

Engaging in creative activities does not only enable young people to tap into their individual imagination, it also unlocks visible learning.

According to a recent study conducted by the Center for Arts Education Research at Columbia University, children organize different kinds of meaning, insight and understanding while learning through the arts. Children can exercise these competencies across different subject domains, like science, math and linguistics.

“Art prioritizes self-exploration over competitive learning,” says Slater.

Summer camps in the Boulder area offer a multitude of options for that kind of learning in camps that focus on visual arts, theater, drama, film, creative writing, storytelling, woodwork, painting and ceramics.