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Fostering the Development of Artistic and Creative Identity.

While perusing their applications before campers arrive, you inevitably form impressions about the incoming camper group. What small pieces of information do you glean that yield insight into the creative identity of each individual? What can staff members do individually or as a community to foster and encourage these emerging identities? Two recent research studies offer information that camp directors can use as tools to structure a learning environment and, thereby, encourage the growth and perceptions of campers.

Impressions of Artistic and Creative Identity

One study designed by Rostan (1998) explored how children perceived their own development in terms of artistic and creative identities. The study involved in-depth interviews with thirty-nine eight-to-eleven-year-old participants in an art-enrichment program.

The children were asked individually what it means to be an artist and what it means to be creative? The children involved in the study reported that being an artist involves a combination of motivation, knowledge, and purposeful work. The descriptive terms used to describe this combination varied by age group. The youngest children reported that they choose their subject matter based on what they liked or what they thought others would like if their artwork were a gift. The nine-year-olds focused on making their work look "real" by using their knowledge in a combination of work and enjoyment.

Ten-year-olds expressed interest in diverse subjects with technical challenges and recognized that the work did not have to look real to be considered good art. The eleven-year-olds wanted to explore painting styles, expressing a desire to find something that was interesting, and persisted in the challenge of accomplishing the desired style. The oldest group demonstrated the elements of artistic decision-making skills. In order to accomplish their goals, they selected among possibilities and modified their knowledge and skills to create the desired end.

The children also reported that being creative meant being able to make things look different. The differences involved intentional manipulation of the art elements, including changing shapes or colors and using imagination to do something new. The study revealed many insights into the creative thought processes of children that can help staff take a different frame of reference when working with campers.

Structuring Our Learning Environments

A different research study (Furman, 1998) examined the relationships between students' perceptions of classroom climate and the behaviors of the teachers within classrooms. Students completed a questionnaire of items surveying sense of control, goal setting, instrumental activity (behaviors related to internally motivated goals), reality perception (ability of a person to judge possibilities and choose appropriate ways to accomplish the goal), personal responsibility, self-confidence, and warmth. The researchers, using a research tool to help them isolate communication that encouraged or stifled creativity, observed the actions of teachers and students in the classrooms. The researchers used two categories for evaluation:

* verbal communication

* information passed from teacher to student (e.g., directions; instructions; lecturing; positive/negative evaluating; feedback; praise; encouragement; criticism; blame; irony)

* interaction between teacher and student (e.g., assisting; answering questions with one correct answer; answering as a class; expanding upon an idea; processing questions)

* information from student to teacher (e.g., answering questions; using a students' idea; asking questions, initiating behavior)

* observable behaviors

* independent work by students

* failure to answer questions

* absence of feedback

Gwynn Powell is a doctoral student in park, recreation, and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina. She has fourteen years of professional experience in camping.

* organization of materials

* variation of task type

The researchers discovered that behaviors that encourage asking questions, giving unusual answers, and showing independence were related to higher perceptions of classroom climate.

Implications for Camp

The everyday context of camp provides opportunities for conversation and exploration of identity. I recently observed a five-year-old girl absorbed in experimenting with the blending of color as she painted with a set of watercolors. I asked her if she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. She looked up and very matter-of-factly replied, "I am an artist." Her sense of identity as an artist had emerged; it was I, the adult, who had failed to recognize and foster it during our conversation. There is in each of us an artist of one variety or another (i.e., music, drawing, thinking, creating, singing, etc.). Summer camp staff can consider several practical ways to encourage the artistic spirit in campers and support how children perceive their own actions.

Setting a conversational tone

The leadership of those program activities that involve taking materials and making something (including, but not limited to arts and crafts) continually deal with a delicate balance between emphasis on process and emphasis on product. During the study when children were discussing their projects, the "realness" of the product was their primary concern and other times the experimentation with new methods was their primary concern. Staff who use open-ended questions or statements allow the child to express the primary emphasis. Examples of open-ended questions include:

* "Tell me about what you are making."

* "I can see you are working hard on this project."

* "I've never seen that combination before; how did you come up with that unique idea?"

Exploration of ideas and materials

Exploring is more than a demonstration of proficiency in using materials as the instructor explained or demonstrated; it is a time for discovery in ways that may or may not resemble the intended project.

Do you allow time to experiment with the materials and medium before a finished product is expected? By exploring the properties and uses of the medium, children are testing their own ideas about how to create with given materials.

Are there times when a finished product is not the goal? If you set a tone of rightness or wrongness during the creative process, you may limit those children with emerging identities as artists and with those who feel incapable even before the process begins. A tone of exploration could lead to new steps of self-identity and encourage opportunities for art to emerge as a means of individual expression.

Planning and assessing for outcomes

The observational tool used in the study can serve as a springboard for the creation of a template specific to different activities at camp. The act of creating a checklist promotes discussion among staff members about ways to teach different activities and communicate with campers. Staff members can take turns observing each other lead activities and then give specific, tangible feedback. By knowing what types of behavior encourage creativity, you will most likely be able to instinctively produce those behaviors while working with children.

If you walk into a room of first-graders and ask, "How many of you can draw?" hands will shoot up. If you go into a high school classroom and ask the same question, the number of hands will greatly diminish. The skills may or may not have changed, but the perceptions of competence and self-evaluation certainly will have changed. One of your goals as a staff member can be to keep the windows of possibilities open as long as possible for each individual camper.

Gwynn Powell is a doctoral student in park, recreation, and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina. She has fourteen years of professional experience in camping.


Furman, A. (1998) Teacher and pupil characteristics in the perception of the creativity of classroom climate. Journal of Creative Behavior, 32 (4), 258-277.

Rostan, S.M. (1998) A study of the development of young artists: the emergence of an artistic and creative identity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 32 (4), 278-301.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:camp administration
Author:Powell, Gwynn M.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 2000
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