I witnessed some wonderful things during the first-ever week of summer camp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. I tagged along Wednesday afternoon as 22 campers ages 6 to 13 experienced music, art, drama and dance activities during the first of four week-long “Around the World” camps taking place at the MIM this month. Each has a geographic theme—I got to see what Asia Week was all about.
For most of the day, campers are grouped by age (6 to 7, 8 to 10 and 11 to 13) as they rotate through activities led by three teachers. I watched campers doing two painting projects, playing several types of musical instruments, practicing acting techniques and learning various movements from a dance style that originated in India.
Kids learned new vocabulary, worked together in groups and enjoyed plenty of creative expression fostered by teachers gifted in striking that delicate balance between maintaining order and encouraging spontaneity and joy. Watching campers play drums, recorders and an Indonesian percussive music style called gamelan reminded me how much music promotes things kids need to do well in school.
Like words are series of letters, musical phrases are series of notes. Like mathematics requires children to hold certain numbers in their memory, dance requires remembering the order of particular steps. Like science experiments include following precise steps, taking an art project from start to finish demands working through a specific process. These kids might not have been aware at the time, but their camp activities at the MIM were playful reinforcements for critical academic skills they will use throughout their school years.
I saw plenty of social skills in action, too. During theater games, kids practiced listening to others’ ideas. During music, they practiced collective decision-making about things like tempo and rhythm. During art, campers shared materials.
My day at MIM’s summer camp made me wonder why so many schools are cutting back on music, dance, drama and art. It reminded me of all the ways subjects sometimes considered “extras” are actually essential to helping our kids grow mentally, physically, socially and emotionally. I left wishing every legislator and school board member could experience just one day at MIM camp.
We could all use a little more time spent making music and forming new friendships together around gamelan.
The Musical Instrument Museum is holding three additional Around the World camps this summer: Africa (June 8-12), Central America (June 15-19) and the U.S.A. (June 22-26). Each session immerses campers in music and world cultures through hands-on activities and concludes with a Friday performance for family members.