How a 21st century skills camp teaches resilience and creativity with clay

We have some amazing teachers and coaches at our overnight camp in NH. We spend the fall and winter searching around the world for talented, nurturing adults who not only understand how to teach their sport or art, but are skilled at helping our campers gain technical proficiency while also developed their vital 21st century skills – skills like creativity, problem solving, flexibility, adaptibility and resilience. If you’d like to see a complete list of our activities please click here.

For the past two weeks I have profiled two of our amazing sports coaches — head of soccer Tom Shanks, and tennis coach Cass Walsh. This week I want to introduce you to Andrew Disbrow, our head of ceramics. Andy has been teaching at our summer camp in NH for 18 summers! 

Andrew Disbrow (aka Andy Ceramics)

Qualifications & Experience

  • BA Art in Drawing and Ceramics
  • Professional Sculpture and Ceramicist for over 25 years
  • Art Director for Lebanon College, Ceramics Professor
  • 18 summers teaching at Camps Kenwood & Evergreen

21st_century_skills_10

Andy Ceramics working with a group of Evergreen campers, teaching them to throw on the potter’s wheel

Arts Teaching Philosophy

When I look at Ceramics and instructing people on different aspects of Ceramics I normally start with a demonstration showing the skills and development that will be covered. Working with clay is very similar to riding a bike or learning how to swimming: you can read and be shown how to but when you get down to it you just have to try it yourself to understand how to do it. Every person has different movements, angling, muscle mass and proportions that all affect their relationship to the specific ceramic project they are working on. These variables provide for the challenges of working in this artistic medium, and the opportunities for skill building, emotional growth and creative expression.

Challenges

I try to introduce age and skill appropriate projects to each group, so that they get the most out of their time in the Ceramics studio. The campers at Kenwood and Evergreen are extraordinarily creative, and each individual has their own individual goals and ideas. So at each period I demonstrate a project that involves one specific skill (centering, slip casting, mold pouring, et al) and then let each individual camper begin work on his or her own design. The staff and I spend activity time working with each camper to learn the skills that will be most important to helping their design become a reality. We want each camper to leave each session with newly-acquired art skills.

The potter’s wheel is always popular at Kenwood and Evergreen. Almost every camper wants to go straight to the wheel and throw something. They very quickly learn that successfully throwing takes one vital skill: PATIENCE! I find myself saying “take your time — it is not a race” so often that it becomes almost a mantra. But this is what campers at here to learn at K&E. Amongst the 21st Century Skills that we teach are patience and resilience, and success in Ceramics requires an abundance of both!

I see many campers and staff get discouraged when their first try on the wheel is not perfect, or maybe not even salvageable. Thankfully, our camp is a 7-week experience, which provides you with ample time to practice, fail, and attempt it again. That’s the only way to become a proficient potter, and a great way to learn the skill of not giving up.  

21st_century_skills_9

You learn in our art studios that failure happens, but with it comes great learning

My favorite part of working with clay is that if you do not like it and it hasn’t gone through the kiln we can smash it and make something new. No harm, no foul. It is very therapeutic to be able to mash and recycle something you worked hard but ultimately did not like. With each session at Ceramics campers gain new skills learned to make something that more closely resembles the idea that they originally had in their mind when they began.

Ceramics and Non-Cognitive Life Skills

Kenwood and Evergreen has been teaching non-cognitive/21st century skills for many years now (I should know, my first summer here was back in 1998!), and the rest of the world is finally catching up with us. In Ceramics campers work on project design, short and long-range planning, and dealing with the inevitable setbacks that come with working in any art form. It’s also an incredible outlet for hardness their ideas and creativity.

When someone works with clay every project involves critical and abstract thinking. In a studio environment, where everyone is working around each other, sharing tools, equipment and spaces, you learn very quickly to be flexible and adapt to change. Some of the best projects stem from campers collaborating with one another, effectively communicating their different ideas and notions. My ceramics studio really becomes a social skills laboratory.

Camps Kenwood and Evergreen in New Hampshire is the 7-week summer home for children from around the world interested in creating amazing art projects, forming lasting friendships, and playing team sports while mastering the non-cognitive skills they will need to become tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. 

Learn More About
Camps Kenwood and Evergreen

If you enjoyed this blog please check out these are similar articles we have recently written: