Hands-On Learning

Summer art camps are a great way for children and teens to unwind and channel creativity in a positive and encouraging environment. There are multiple options once school’s out of session, from throwing pottery on a wheel to learning to write fiction — there’s something for every artistic interest. We spoke to three experts about how their nontraditional summer art camps can create lasting and meaningful experiences.

This summer, Page Zekonis of Open Window Studios is hosting her third Art-Away Excursion. Teens will head to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to spend a week exploring art and learning from working artists.

“We see exhibits, contemporary and traditional, and get exposure to a wide range of how artists work,” Zekonis explains. “They gain experience by meeting a working artist in their studio and have a real dialogue about how an artist lives and creates. It’s an experiential kind of thing.”

On the trip, students will be given the opportunity to tour Georgia O’Keefe’s studio, take a private tour at Nedra Matteucci Gallery, and even spend an afternoon in the wild immersive art of Meow Wolf. And, of course, there’s daily time to make art, either on-site or back at the home studio.

Because it’s a small group (the trip is limited to eight students), Zekonis says students can bond and become a big, art-loving family. 

“The environment becomes very safe, and they don’t feel judged,” Zekonis says. “It gives them permission to explore quirky ideas, hold each other up, and be honest with what they want to do.”

At Blossom Bilingual Preschool, director Marie-Pierre Nicoletti immerses young children in an authentic French learning environment using two unlikely tools — food and thread. A woman of many trades, Nicoletti studied cooking and sewing in France and has taught the French language for more than 20 years. Her students range from ages 3-7 and enjoy learning outdoors and in the kitchen.

“It feels very natural, they don’t question it,” Nicoletti says. Depending on what the theme of the week is (in the past, they have done forest, farm and fairy themes), students will have the chance to play and picnic outside and choose to participate in outdoor crafts or French cuisine in the kitchen.

“It makes the language apprenticeship more interesting and more engaging,” Nicoletti says. “It’s easier to remember if someone tells you in the language, ‘Pass the bread or flour.’

“It’s important to be exposed to a foreign language at any age. It doesn’t have to be French. It provides an opportunity for the brain to grow and connect and learn sounds that don’t belong to their native language and develop muscles in the mouth for pronunciation.”

For teens who want to take their literary skills to the next level this summer, the Boulder Writing Studio is the space for them. Carla Riccio, development director and writing instructor, leads workshops for aspiring novelists and nonfiction writers.

These afternoon sessions start with learning about each other’s writing styles and interests. Riccio makes sure to expose students to a variety of contemporary literature. 

“I know they’re reading Heart of Darkness and The Great Gatsby in school; they should also be exposed to a hot new 20- or 30-something [year-old] author,” Riccio says. “It’s important to share with them what’s going on in that scene.”

Riccio shares works like Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado, and the late Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. During the workshop young writers develop their own ideas and let their imaginations run wild from there. After, they’ll do peer revisions, readings for family and friends, and learn about the submission process, even long after camp is over. 

“We do treat them as bona fide emerging contemporary writers, so we give them the same respect and belief and tools as if we were running a MFA,” Riccio says. “They have the experience of what it’s like being an author, how to be a workshop participant, and give good feedback. 

“We teach the language of supportive constructive feedback, which is usually a setting they won’t find themselves in until college. It’s a skill to learn, and it’s helpful creating that vibe that we’re a community of writing peers who support each other’s work.”

With so many options, it’s never been easier to nurture your child’s creative mind.

Written for Boulder Weekly, Special Edition: Kids Camps.

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