Playing and learning within Toronto’s foremost cultural and scientific institutions
For Our Kids Media
“Maybe some children have overdosed on simulations on their computers at home and just want to see something solid — a fact of life,” says paleontologist Richart Fortey. “Maybe a museum should be the place to have an encounter with the bony truth.”
At some summer camps in Toronto, they can do exactly that and more. Hosted by the city’s foremost institutions, they get kids into the collections in a very literal way, interacting with the collections, learning from them and from each other. Simply arriving at these places every day, and walking through a door that most people can’t, is part of the thrill. Kids dream about getting behind the scenes — to lay their hands on the “bony truth” — and these camps make that dream a reality.
The AGO is known for innovation, something that is symbolized in the redesign of the building by Frank Gehry, completed in 2008. The camps are about art, but they extend that in all kinds of interesting ways, exploring where art intersects with culture, science, and life. As such, the sessions don’t focus on media, but concepts. An Aviation session, for example, looks at flight using paper airplanes, the experimentation of Da Vinci as noted in his codices, and drawing birds in flight. One session looked at created habitat for urban wildlife. And on it goes. New themes are offered each summer, though all are as inspired as they are inspiring. The AGO camps are one of a kind, and have rightly grown a strong reputation and devoted following.
The McMichael facility is as much of a national treasure as the art that it houses. You really can’t praise it enough—it’s truly a jewel in the crown of Canadian arts. In addition to year round programs, the summer sessions, in particular, unabashedly get kids involved up to their elbows in art, from creation to appreciation. The sessions are active, though created to really promote the work and the collections to kids on their level, inspiring them to better appreciate their talents as well as the talents of those around them. The experience of being at the collection, too, creates a sense of ownership for the works collected there. The gallery intentionally blurs the line between art and environment, and the camps seek to extend that, getting kids out into the world, and to see how that world is reflected in the work of some of the country’s greatest artists. These camps are not just art classes or art appreciation workshops, they are vibrant, well-led programs allowing kids to have fun while interacting with others around the arts.
It’s right to expect that Black Creek offers summer programs based in history, and certainly they do. That said, the programing is more varied, and more creative, than you’d think at first blush. Sessions range from craft programs, to superheroes saving the village from villains. Kids love to dress up, to try on new identities in new contexts, and that’s something that the setting here offers in abundance. Even for adults, it’s a chance to step away from the city, though without having to drive hours to do so. That environment is a draw, though so is the expertise and the creativity with which the programs are run. They’ve been at it a long time, and have built a strong staff and best practices. There’s certainly a lot to love, again, not restricted to a chance for kids to step back in time.
The Gardiner Museum is one of Toronto’s most unique and engaging cultural gems, founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner as a place to house and share their collection of ceramics. Recent shows mounted here by Yoko Ono and Ai Weiwei have proved that clay is a fascinating and dynamic art form. With extensive renovations and an expansion completed in 2006, the building was brought forward along with the intentions for it. The camps were part of that vision. They are expertly run by passionate instructors who not only know the craft, but can interpret it within its historical and cultural contexts. There is a nice range of session options, including half-day and full-day. Groups are intentionally kept small, with a maximum of 12 in each, and less in the wheel workshops. As such, everyone gets their own space, and maximum time with the materials. The art camp sessions extend the activity beyond clay, which is a nice addition. Younger campers are dropped off, though for the older ones, the TTC stop is literally right outside the door. The setting, frankly, is thrilling, something that adds to the experience. Spending days in a museum of this stature, working with people this engaged, can be transformative in all kinds of meaningful ways.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the resources available at the ROM are varied, vast, and unequalled, and the summer programs make the most of all of it. Like the museum collections, the summer sessions are based in social and natural history, with each session based around a certain theme. Simply attending the museum for a week is, for many kids, a thrill in and of itself. Developing a relationship with docents only furthers that; campers feel that they have a unique access to the staff and the collections, and, frankly, they do. The summer programs have been running for more than 75 years, and while it’s less obvious in the day-to-day, there’s a tradition here as well, one of growing an interest in the world around us, and building an engagement with others based in a specific set of curiosities. The camps are very professionally presented, with programs run by expert, experienced staff. Any way you care to cut it, there’s a lot to love.
The experience of arriving each morning at the Ontario Science Centre itself can be inspiring, and doubly so for young people with an interest in space, science, or technology. The environment has a bustle to it, and certainly, there’s a lot going on. It’s also one of the foremost science interpretive institutions in the country, with a range of resources that are unmatched, and all of it created with a young person’s gaze foremost in mind. The goal of the institution is to inspire a curiosity and an engagement with science, and they achieve that in spades. The camps extend the expertise of the staff, and the half-day sessions are a particular example of that. They allow young people to wade in, testing the waters as it were. They and the full-day sessions are creatively programmed—it would probably be enough to just let the kids experience the exhibits and the collections, or park them in the IMAX theatre, but the staff has larger intentions, as demonstrated by the themes that they build the various sessions and programs around. Kids come away having had an unique experience of the centre, available only through these sessions, and having gained an expanded sense of their talents, skills, and abilities. Sharing time with peers of like minds, like interests, and like academic goals is also one of the reasons families enroll here, and why they come back each summer. The PA day and holiday sessions allow kids a chance to dip back into that environment at intervals outside of the summer season, reconnecting with familiar faces within a familiar setting.