Monthly Archives: May 2016

I send my kids to sleep-away camp to give them a competitive advantage in life

Written by Camp Birchmont -

This recent article from The Washington post describes how “opting out of the things-to-put-on-the-college-application arms race,” can be beneficial for your camper. There are “huge benefits of summer camp”, which the author believes give her campers the “true competitive advantage — in life.”

I send my kids to sleep-away camp to give them a competitive advantage in life
By Laura Clydesdale, Washington Post

“Do you even like your children?” the woman I had just met asked me.

The audacity of the question took my breath away. I had been chatting with her, explaining that my kids go to sleep-away camp for two months every year.

I quickly realized two things at once: She was obnoxious, and she actually didn’t care if I missed my kids during the summer. She was talking about something else.

I didn’t have to tell her the reason I “send them away” for most of the summer is because I like them. They adore camp, and it’s actually harder on me than it is on them. I often tell people that the first year they were both gone, it felt like I had lost an arm. I wandered around the house from room to room experiencing phantom limb pain.

Now, instead of being offended, I got excited.

I was going to be able to tell her something that my husband and I rarely get to explain: We do it because we truly think it will help our kids be successful in life. With under-employment and a stagnating labor market looming in their future, an all-around, sleep-away summer camp is one of the best competitive advantages we can give our children.


Surely, college admissions officers aren’t going to be impressed with killer friendship bracelets or knowing all the words to the never-ending camp song “Charlie on the M.T.A.” Who cares if they can pitch a tent or build a fire?

Indeed, every summer my kids “miss out” on the specialized, résumé-building summers that their peers have. Their friends go to one-sport summer camps and take summer school to skip ahead in math. Older peers go to SAT/ACT prep classes. One kid worked in his dad’s business as an intern, while another enrolled in a summer program that helped him write all his college essays.

Many (this woman included) would say that I’m doing my children a serious disservice by choosing a quaint and out-of-date ideal instead. There are online “Ivy League Coaches” that might say we are making a terrible mistake.

We don’t think this is a mistake at all. It might not be something to put on the college application (unless my child eventually becomes a counselor), but that isn’t the goal for us.

Our goal is bigger.

We are consciously opting out of the things-to-put-on-the-college-application arms race, and instead betting on three huge benefits of summer camp, which we believe will give them a true competitive advantage — in life:

1. Building creativity.

2. Developing broadly as a human being.

3. Not-living-in-my-basement-as-an-adult independence.

MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson says, in his book “The Second Machine Age,” that we have reached a pivotal moment where technology is replacing skills and people at an accelerated pace. He argues that creativity and innovation are becoming competitive advantages in the race against artificial intelligence, because creativity is something a machine has a hard time replicating.

The problem is that creativity seems so intangible.

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” He believed that people invent when they connect the dots between the experiences they’ve had. To do this, he argued that we need to have more experiences and spend more time thinking about those experiences.

Indeed. According to Adam Grant’s book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” researchers at Michigan State University found that to receive the Nobel Prize, you need deep study in your field and those broad experiences Jobs was talking about. They studied the winning scientists from 1901 through 2005 and compared them with typical scientists living at the same time. Grant writes that the Nobel Prize winners were:

* Two times more likely to play an instrument, compose or conduct.

* Seven times more likely to draw, paint or sculpt.

* Seven-and-a-half times more likely to do woodwork or be a mechanic, electrician or glassblower.

* Twelve times more likely to write poetry, plays, novels or short stories.

* And 22 times more likely to be an amateur actor, dancer or magician.

You read that right. Magician.

It’s not just that this kind of original thinker actively seeks out creative pursuits. These original experiences provide a new way of looking at the world, which helped the prize-winners think differently in their day jobs.

The beauty of summer camp is that not only do kids get to do all sorts of crazy new things, they also get to do it in nature, which lends its own creative boost.

Most importantly, my kids have such intensely packed schedules full of sports, music, art classes, community service and technological stimulation throughout the school year that it makes finding these all-important quiet mental spaces more difficult.

Summers provide a much-needed opportunity for my children to unplug, achieve focus and develop those creative thought processes and connections.

Okay, okay. Creativity might be a compelling tool to beat out that neighbor girl applying to the same college, but what about this “developing broadly as a human being” stuff?

I didn’t come up with that phrase. Harvard did.

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, has penned a compelling letter to parents. It practically begs and pleads with them to reevaluate the summer extracurriculars race and to “bring summer back,” with an “old-fashioned summer job” perhaps, or simply time to “gather strength for the school year ahead.”

Fitzsimmons writes, “What can be negative is when people lose sight of the fact that it’s important to develop broadly as a human being, as opposed to being an achievement machine. In the end, people will do much better reflecting, perhaps through some down time, in the summer.”

In terms of “developing broadly as a human being,” summer camp can provide an impressive list of life skills.

Studies over the past decade have shown outdoor programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on adolescents’ sense of empowerment, self-control, independence, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality and interpersonal relations.

Now for the cherry on top: Independence.

Michael Thompson, the author of “Homesick and Happy,” has written, “… there are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life-changing experience for children.”

So, yes, Ms. Tiger Mom, I am letting my children walk out the door and make useless lanyards for two months.

They might not have anything “constructive” to place on their college application, but they will reflect, unwind, think and laugh. They will explore, perform skits they wrote themselves and make those endless friendship bracelets to tie onto the wrists of lifelong friends.

The result will be that when they come back through our door, we’re pretty sure that, in addition to having gobs of creativity and independence, they’ll be more comfortable with who they are as people.

And just maybe they’ll even bring back a few magic tricks.

Laura Clydesdale lives in Berkeley, Calif., with her husband and children. She blogs at Follow her on Twitter @l_clydesdale.

Going to Sleepaway Camp As A Kid Might Prepare You Better for College

Written by Camp Birchmont -

This recent article from NBC News describes how attending summer camp can help your child ease into college campus life with a little more ease. The benefits of summer camp last a lifetime!

Going to Sleepaway Camp As A Kid Might Prepare You Better for College
by Allison Slater Tate, NBC News

Here’s a more fun way to prepare for college than studying: Go to overnight camp.

Summer camp may not help you ace your college calculus class, but experts say being away from home when you’re younger can help you ease into campus life.

“While we don’t track students who have participated in an overnight camp experience, I can comfortably speculate that those who have are more apt to apply the tools they learned there in resolving roommate conflicts, problem-solving in small groups, and learning to live with people from different backgrounds,” Kenyon College vice president for student affairs Meredith Harper Bonham told NBC News.

While some students struggle when they leave home for the first time, veterans of overnight camp arrive on campus armed with some important lessons in communal living.

“Many of our students have never had to share a room, or even a bathroom, with a sibling,” Bonham said, adding that some students have grown up in “highly segregated areas with respect to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic class.”

Overnight camp forces the type of constant interaction, negotiation and direct communication that students will face in the communal, diverse environment of a residential college,” she added.


Benjamin Eidelberg, 22, felt his camp experience came in handy when he got his undergraduate degree. He spent summers at Camp Cobbossee in Monmouth, Maine, starting at age 10.

“Camp was a great way to prepare me for college and leaving home,” Eidelberg, who got his Bachelor’s from the University of Maryland and is now getting a Master’s there, told NBC News. “On top of forging friendships for a lifetime, camp taught me how to be away from my parents, interact with complete strangers, and become independent.”

He drew parallels between the first day of college, when he didn’t know anyone, and the first day of camp, where the only campers he knew were his brother and two family friends.

“Like in college, I was forced to meet and socialize with strangers and ultimately develop my group of friends,” he said.

Eidelberg also found camp fertile ground for developing confidence and a new perspective.

“Camp served as an escape from life at home, whether it was school or just Pikesville [Maryland] in general,” he said. “It was a place, similar to college, that was fresh and where others did not have strong predispositions, at least prior to my first couple of summers.”

Kenyon College’s Bonham said she sees the benefits of summer camp for her own children too: whether it’s sharing care packages with their bunkmates or getting out of their comfort zones and trying new activities.

“While I like to think they learned all of these qualities as toddlers, receiving the additional reinforcement as pre-teens and teenagers can only help as they develop into humane, socially conscious adults,” she said.

Though summer camp experiences don’t often make it onto college applications, college admissions counselor Sara Harberson of Admissions Revolution believes they could still serve applicants well.

“The memories and lessons students have from summer camp will imbue them with a genuineness and adaptability which may come through in unpredictable ways in their essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews,” Harberson said. “Most importantly, their approach to the college process and their choices about how to spend their remaining summers are usually quite thoughtful, because they have a taste of what it means to be happy with their surroundings. That might make going to camp as a younger child priceless in the end.”

Safe Waterfront for Lifeguarding Staff & Campers

Written by Greg Pierce - Owner/Director, Camp Birchmont

This recent article from Camp Business illustrates how seriously we take waterfront safety here at Camp Birchmont. Our number one priority all summer long is to keep our campers safe and having fun.

Smooth Sailing At The Beach
Creating a safe waterfront for lifeguarding staff and campers
by Robert Attonito

It’s another spectacular New Hampshire afternoon at Camp Birchmont as I sit alongside Lake Wentworth, enjoying a moment of quiet. The lake is calm and crystal-clear, a young bald eagle floats high overhead, and a gentle breeze is the only thing to be heard. In the distance, the tranquility is broken by the sound of happy children rushing to their afternoon “free swim” period at what we simply refer to as “the beach.”

As waterfront director, my responsibility is to balance fun with safety, to allow just enough spirited play while maintaining a watchful eye in preventing incidents and accidents. At Birchmont and especially at the beach, creating a safe and secure environment for campers is still the top priority, while allowing them to learn new skills and have fun frolicking in what can be described as the perfect camp lake.

Start With Staff Members

To start the summer, the camp’s lifeguard orientation begins before all other staff orientations. Prior to arriving, all lifeguards receive emails that contain lifeguard manuals, a staff handbook, and other articles on camp and boat safety. All waterfront staff must study for and take the challenging New Hampshire Commercial Boat Licensing exam in accord with state requirements. From the time they are screened and eventually hired, all lifeguards are scrutinized for experience, certifications, and general knowledge as it pertains to both the camp experience and waterfront acumen. Creating a great espirit de corps among guards is essential in creating a high staff return rate among waterfront staff. During the extensive orientation, lifeguards are taught the skills they need to master before the children arrive two weeks later. Although most come with proper certifications, the entire waterfront staff benefits from a thorough review. The orientation time is spent on rescue skills, CPR/AED, and first aid. An emphasis on boating safety with the inherent dangers, as well as all waterfront policies and logistics, are covered to ensure an effective response to any incident. Our emergency-action plan is repeated often to ensure an immediate reaction. Skills are taught and reinforced throughout the summer and reviewed weekly by the waterfront directors, based on observations or incidents to guarantee there is no deterioration of skills and to combat complacency. Waterfront staff members are required to swim laps daily to build endurance and help fight fatigue. Once the members are ready and the kids arrive, we have a tradition of administering our own high-level swim test for each camper, prior to giving them full access to the lake.

Swim Tests

For us, morning instructional swim is not optional until campers have completed 7th grade, and/or have completed a vigorous deep-water swim test. Morning swim is comprised of three periods of American Red Cross swim instruction, which includes lessons for a wide range of ability levels, from novice swimmers to those pursuing a highly sought-after Lifeguard Training Certificate at age 15.

During the afternoon swim, campers are offered a wide array of choices, including a free swim, kayaking, sailing, skiing, paddle boarding, floating iceberg, and trampoline with a rope swing, and more! Having established a safe environment provides campers an envelope of security that promotes a love for the “beach.” Swim time remains as popular as ever, since the Pierce Family established the camp back in 1951. In fact, parents and campers looking for a traditional, big lake experience are drawn to Birchmont and beautiful Lake Wentworth! While we’d love to share all of the success stories of kids learning to ski, sail, wakeboard, swim, pass “LIT”, etc., this article’s focus is on some of the protocols and policies for safety we have adopted over the years.

What we do at the beach may not be for everyone, but we continually refine the program so it works well for today’s campers and adheres to our camp traditions. The hope is that readers might obtain an idea or reinforce one of their own practices so that all camps provide secure waterfronts.

Lake Wentworth is 13 miles in circumference, and at 3,097 acres, is the seventh-largest lake located entirely in New Hampshire. Campers need to be confident swimmers, even with the use of life preservers, which are required once outside the roped-in swim area. To that end, we adhere to a deep-water test that consists of a lap requirement (approximately a 200-yard continuous swim), which campers must pass in order to gain access to the lake at large for boating (sailing, canoeing, paddle boarding, kayaking), waterskiing, wake boarding, and/or tubing. Not only is the policy safer in the long run, but it becomes a clear esteem-booster as campers are always recognized for their efforts by staff and peers. Once children do pass, a myriad of activities are open to them, regardless of age. In fact, we encourage children to try every waterfront activity that is offered as an integral part of camp life.

Keep Staff On Their Toes

As director, my major focus is on constantly watching over my staff of 18+ members to ensure they maintain the safest possible waterfront protocols that include the “five-minute scan” developed at Penn State University and the RID factor, recognized by the American Red Cross. Additionally, we use the buddy system for all campers and staff, who also must pass a required staff swim test. In addition to myself as the director, the staff hierarchy at the waterfront includes my longtime assistant director, Polly Goldman (W.S.I.), followed by three team captains who are senior lifeguards, and who supervise a team of six other guards. Every afternoon (consisting of three activity periods), each team rotates between lifeguarding, sailing, and waterskiing, keeping individuals fresh, and yet working as a team that is familiar with one another. Instilling a true family atmosphere that includes the directors and the entire staff creates a vested interest in not letting each other down. We make sure staff members know that “bad things can and do happen to everyone,” regardless of the camp or program. In that regard, a healthy sense of fear help keep lifeguards on point for the entire summer.

One final distinction is that the beach is always closed to visitors, campers, staff members, and even owner/directors when lifeguards are not on duty.

Explore And Excel

We want all campers to have fun, and we encourage them to truly enjoy the beach and all of the waterfront activities, not only the ones within their comfort zone. Having a large, well-trained, and competent lifeguarding staff is essential to maintaining that safe environment for children to explore and excel!

Ultimately, all of these efforts and protocols lead to a safe and rewarding waterfront experience, and one that for 65 summers has left campers running back to the beach for more!

Robert Attonito is a retired N.Y. teacher, coach, wrestling official, and fireman from Deer Park, N.Y. He is an AMT, a WSI since 1964, and member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “Bobby” has been at camp since 1954 as a young camper, and is now considered a Birchmont living legend.