Kids' Peaceful summer on the Upper West Side

| 01 Sep 2016 | 11:37

Adam Jacobs fosters an atmosphere of peace at his summer camps. “We have a rule that if you’re on the playground and somebody is sitting out, you have to go ask them if they want to join you and play,” he explained.

His nonprofit, Kids Creative, came about in 2000, when he and his brother Stephen started a camp in a studio apartment in Murray Hill. Because of popular demand from parents, they expanded to a theater on the Upper West Side and also introduced an afterschool program and free monthly workshops.

The summer camp runs in two-week sessions where children brainstorm to create an original musical and perform it on stage. With a master’s degree in Peace Education from Teachers’ College, Jacobs said his goal is to use the arts as a vehicle to establish a peaceful community without fighting and bullying. As for his future plans, he hopes to launch a Kids Creative school centered on peace.

How did Kids Creative start? When he came to New York many years ago, my brother Stephen got a job in P.S. 116 in Murray Hill and was doing afterschool. He is a musician so would play with kids. He called me up and said, ‘Hey, would you want to start a summer camp?’ And he found a friend’s vacant studio apartment at the time. So we had 12 kids in a studio apartment around Murray Hill. And over the course of two weeks, wrote an original musical. One of the parents was a recording engineer, so to get the kids to remember their words, he recorded the music. And then all his friends who are musicians joined in too and gave them CDs so they could remember them. It became really popular and parents were like, ‘We love the music and the kids keep playing the CDs over and over even after the shows are done. We want more.’ So we started having afterschool programs and then we realized that running a camp out of a studio apartment is absolutely insane, so we moved to a theater the next year and eventually moved the whole summer program to the Upper West Side and then it expanded from there.

There are a lot of projects that have come out of that.Kids Creative runs summer camps, afterschool programs and free monthly workshops throughout the year. We’re a nonprofit organization. We also started a rock band for kids called the Dirty Sock Funtime Band. We played all over the world. We were on Nick Jr. for a while and that was pretty awesome. And a couple of years ago, Stephen used a similar philosophy of education and started an instrumental program in Midtown called Come Join the Band. And that is now our summer camp instrumental music program.

What does a day look like at your summer camp?There are two-week sessions. Every two weeks, we write an original musical and perform it. They’re broken into different age groups. On day one we ask, ‘What do you want to do a story about?’ We brainstorm using our motto that all ideas are good. And each day they build on that until they’ve gotten a show. So they add music, theater, art, staging and we put the shows on stage. They spend mornings creating their play and then run around in the park and sprinklers in the afternoon. Once a week, they go on a field trip to see theater, a concert, to the zoo or the Museum of Natural History.

Give us examples of the plays they’ve created.Each show day has five shows per day since each age group creates their own show. There was one the little kids did where all the stories were either in or around an aquarium. They had a kid who went to an aquarium. He got really interested and excited about the animals and ended up meeting them and having a conversation with them and decided he wanted to become an animal. He became an animal and then realized he really just wanted to go back to his family, so he went back to his family. The older kids created an entire land called Sumria where there were mermaid people who got sucked into a portal and got to meet this underground world where they were free. But there was a corporate interest that wanted to sell the animals at the aquarium. So they had to go back and forth where they convinced the corporate interest that they should have the right to be free.

How do you encourage the children to act peacefully?We encourage them to use language where if someone is teasing them, they say, ‘Hey, I didn’t like that.’ Or even what we call fake teasing, when somebody says, ‘I’m just kidding.’ That’s not allowed at Kids Creative. We do see kids use that language and our teachers use it with each other. We have one kid who started the camp when he was 5 and is now in seventh grade. He comes to our Creative Saturday workshops and does an amazing job when somebody new comes in. He goes up and says, “Hey, welcome. What’s your name?’

You run free workshops on Saturdays. Why is it important for you to provide those?It’s important because it’s a preview to the summer camp if they want to know more about what they’re getting into. It’s a chance for somebody to check it out. There are not that many free offerings, especially on the Upper West Side, for kids. There are a lot of classes, but we think this is a great opportunity to see what we do regardless of price.

You also helped found a public school in the Bronx. How did you get involved with that?We helped start P.S. 536. Somebody I met at P.S. 191 said she wanted to start a school and got a principal’s license. The process is really interesting and quite intense. I came in as an advisor for afterschool. We looked at everything from what the curriculum would be, to what the daily schedule would be. And now we run a 550-kid program there now, 350 in the afterschool program and 200 during the summer.

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