Laurier music students help run KidsAbility summer camp

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Arts Express summer camp, an annual week-long, inclusive day camp, took place earlier this month at Waterloo KidsAbility.

The week was run by Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo students. The camp lasted from July 4 – 8 and was open for children with special needs, as well as their friends and siblings.

KidsAbility, a child development centre, was the ideal location for the inclusive camp as the facility is accessible for all campers.

“We run all of our creative arts programming there because it also has an accessible swimming pool and playground, which allows the kids to have a traditional camp day,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, instructor in Laurier’s faculty of music, as well as program coordinator for Arts Express camp for the past nine years.

At the end of the week, the camp relocates to Laurier’s Maureen Forrester Recital Hall for the campers to participate in a dress rehearsal and present a final performance for family and friends to watch.

“On the Friday performance, every child has a moment that they’re up on stage to shine. We work hard to accommodate and modify the program and find their strengths so that they can have that special moment,” said Mitchell.

Camp programming and activities are planned and executed by Laurier and University of Waterloo students who are enrolled in a music therapy course offered by Laurier each Spring called Inclusive Arts for Children. The course focuses on community service learning that incorporates a community placement.

“The course prepared them to work that week of camp when they become camp counsellors for that week and deliver almost all of the programming,” explained Mitchell.

Throughout each day at Arts Express, campers were able to participate in both process and product based art forms.

“It’s about exploring the arts in a creative way, as well as rehearsals every day, where we’re getting the kids to think about and help to plan the final rehearsal,” said Mitchell.

Many of the campers who attend Arts Express have a range of diagnosed disabilities or are friends with or related to an individual with a diagnosed disability; however, the inclusive camp is open to anybody.

“Because the program is really unique in the Waterloo Region and there isn’t a lot of summer programming that is so inclusive, it has developed such a strong reputation amongst families of children with special needs,” stated Mitchell.

Created in 1993 by four faculty members—two from Laurier, one from the University of Waterloo and one from Conestoga College—the vision for the camp was to provide an arts related opportunity that was inclusive and accessible for kids that wouldn’t otherwise get to participate fully and create meaningful experiences.

Mitchell stated that she believes experiences in the arts is integral for children to participate in. Arts Express provides a chance for children to access meaningful experiences who may have barriers otherwise, such as socio economic, health related, physical or developmental disabilities, among others.

“I really believe that artistic experiences are such an important part of being alive and being human,” said Mitchell. “[As well as] learning about your self, relating to other people, [and] expressing yourself and being creative.

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