Still So Much To See And Do

Written by Laura Pierce - Owner/Director, Camp Birchmont

frisbee-dog-hiphop2

We are now officially into our second half of the summer, and all of us are here after arriving by cars, buses and planes. We hosted our 65th Parent Visiting Day on Saturday, and greeted our new campers on Sunday, and we are in full swing with camp activities and trips.

We enjoyed some great post Visiting Day entertainment this weekend with blow up rides, frisbee catching dogs and an outrageously great hip hop dance artist who involved our campers and counselors whose enthusiasm carried the night.

softball-girls2

Our girls Birchmont Braves softball team placed as finalists in the Tri-State softball tournament taking second place in a full day tournament off grounds with 5 other camps, bringing back lots of pride and a beautiful trophy we held high in our Dining Hall. Congrats to Paige Lind, Erin Ahern and Sophie Cowen for their dominating pitching skills.

Our weekly trips are still underway with our Super Senior group , climbing Mt Chocorua this morning. This legendary peak in the White Mountain range will give the climbers a view of three states from the summit. Our campers know the legend of Chief Chocoura as it is one of the most well told tragic tales in regard to Native American history in New Hampshire. Then it’s on to enjoy a dinner together to celebrate the climbers’ accomplishment at the popular restaurant, Poor People’s Pub.

The Senior boys and girls are enjoying a day at the beach. The Ogunquit beach in Maine just an hour away, offers some of the most beautiful coastline in New England, the swimming beach is vast and gorgeous, with the artist colony of Perkins Cove nearby waiting to be explored, many of our campers will be enjoying a classic “lobsta” dinner in the cove under a setting sun.
Our Pioneers and Explorers will be heading out to play on the water rides at Aquaboggan and Splashtown, followed by next weeks trips to the Polar Caves, and Lost River, both amazing natural sites in the area.

kayaking-lower-explorer-boys

Greg and I went kayaking yesterday afternoon with the Lower Explorer Boys. We were a colorful flotilla of 12 boats, some more experienced than others. We took off from our lake on a stunning day of sunshine and still waters. Everyone paddled down to the tributary about 1/4 mile away, portaging over a spit of sand leading us into the brook where we kayaked a few miles, through yellow flowered lily pads, to a beaver damn, seeing some painted turtles along the way.

I don’t bring my cell phone while kayaking, we have our radios, but I wish I had the phone as a camera. We saw a majestic eagle in the tree tops above us when we finished our paddle and went for a swim on the beach nearby. The eagle then soared over our heads, and we were all in awe, just for a moment , before splashing around and boarding our boats back to camp.

boys-water-fight

Pioneer girls enjoyed a campfire and some raspberry picking this week. And we know they had fun because we could hear their squealing to a campy combo of jokes and storytelling around the fire. The Pioneer boys and Super Senior boys bonded over water games on the field in front of their cabins with Head of boys camp Scott Shallcross and Group Leaders, Harris and Gary overseeing the fun.

We have so many camp highlights coming up… Bagel Sunday, Dance Socials, Aladin, the camp musical production, Booth Carnival, Color War, Song Fest, Banquet , and other surprises. We have many days of fun on the fields with our friends, and time in the lake to swim, sail, ski and relax. I could write more, but then I would be missing more of this wonderful camp day. Hope you are all enjoying your summer days too. We will try to keep you posted…

Words From Our Woods

~ Laura Pierce

Lake Sunset

“When I see birches bend to the left and right…
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.”
– Robert Frost

“We have not merely escaped from something, but also into something…We have joined the greatest of all communities, which is not that of man alone, but of everything which shares with us the great adventure of being alive.”
– Joseph Wood Krutch

Lake and Field

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountain.”
– John Muir

“Children learning about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”
– Thomas Berry

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
– John Muir

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These quotes are just a few of the many powerful and poignant statements made about our natural world, and really fall under the “I couldn’t have said it better myself” category.

When you see the impact, both subtle and profound that is made upon a child who is discovering the woods, and mountains around them, it is impossible not to take notice.

That our campers enjoy a lot of time outdoors is no surprise, but the amount of time we spend plunging into lakes, running in the rain, watching wind in trees, seeing the light of day fade away, tramping up trails, sailing in sunlight, feeling firelight, as part of our daily experience might surprise you; we sometimes surprises ourselves, and that’s a good thing.

Because we are aware, that we have something very precious here; it’s the luxury of time in the beauty of nature. Unlike computers and television … Nature does not steal time, it amplifies it. The camp community is about taking time to make friends, time to experience all the nature that surrounds us everyday and every night. Sure we are busy till the setting sun, but what sunsets they are, and what peace comes with knowing we will wake up with our friends the next day and be able to play with them in this beautiful place where the air always smells of fresh pine, and we notice things like moss on trees and flowers falling over fences, and dragonflies and frogs and robins having babies up in the rafters of Notches… For this we are grateful!

Lessons From Camp

Free from school-year demands, summer camps are a key venue for social-emotional learning

By Leah Shafer, on July 1, 2016 11:23am

Summer camp: For so many kids, it signifies carefree days of swimming, playing sports, singing songs, and reveling in freedom from the demands of the school year. Camp means no homework, no studying, and no teachers.

But significant learning is still taking place at summer camp — even if the campers don’t necessarily realize it.

Summer Learning (Without the Books)

All those classic camp dynamics — being away from home and parents, making new friends, being part of a team, and trying new things — are building blocks to crucial social-emotional skills.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can encompass a variety of practices, but most experts agree that a child with high SEL skills is successful in five core areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These skills are increasingly understood to be central to success in school and in professional life beyond, but schools don’t always have the time or capacities to teach them explicitly. Obligations to complete curriculum and boost student achievement often make it difficult for teachers to prioritize community building, goal-setting, or problem solving in their classrooms.

Unconnected to the commitments of the school day, summer camps (particularly overnight camps) can dive head-first into social-emotional learning — and many do. These opportunities are especially importance for low-income students, many of whom already have fewer opportunities to gain these skills outside of school.

A 2005 study of 80 camps by the American Camp Association (ACA) found significant growth in children’s social-emotional skills after a session of summer camp. Camp staff, parents, and children reported increases in children’s self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, and values and decision-making skills, from the beginning to the end of a session.

What a Good Camp Experience Looks Like

It’s not just the new environment and flexible schedule that builds kids’ social-emotional skills. Many camps have an intentional focus on social-emotional learning. YMCA camps, for instance, explicitly discuss their four values — honest, caring, respect, and responsibility — constantly, through songs, skits, and rallies. And most camps train staff to coach kids on becoming more independent, socially aware, and reflective.

In particular, camps foster relationship skills and social awareness by:

  • Introducing children to an entirely new group of peers. Camp may be the first time children have spent substantial time with people whose background — home, race, or religion — is different from their own.
  • Setting up opportunities for children to find their own friends. According to education researcher and longtime camp counselor and director Claire Gogolen, counselors often begin a session by leading icebreakers and regularly sorting a cabin group into different pairs. These activities give campers explicit opportunities to get to know each other, allowing them to figure out who they want to become better friends with.
  • Creating a space where silliness is accepted, and bullying is not. Without the need to plunge into academic content, camps have time to use the beginning of a session to prioritize group norms, says learning specialist and former camp counselor and director Ari Fleisher. Counselors can make it very clear that bullying and teasing are not acceptable. At the same time, camps can encourage songs, jokes, and general silliness that allow campers to relax and be themselves.
  • Taking a break from technology. Many overnight camps restrict or prohibit phones and computers. For many campers, this means it’s the first time they’ve made friends without the help of Instagram or Snapchat, and they learn how to navigate social cues to build and maintain friendships in “real life.”
  • Modeling teamwork and sportsmanship. During staff training, many camps stress the importance of adults demonstrating cooperation and friendship to their campers. When campers are surrounded by positive role models — particularly role models closer to their own age than teachers are — they learn how to get along with peers who may be different from them.

Camps also nurture self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making by:

  • Requiring children to solve day-to-day problems on their own. With limited contact with parents, campers have to learn how to manage their own conflicts, whether it’s a disagreement with a bunkmate or not getting their first-choice activity.
  • Presenting activities that are new to everyone. Counselors often purposefully lead games and activities that none of their campers have tried before, says afterschool specialist and former camp counselor Nicky DeCesare. Without the fear that some peers will already have a leg-up on lava tag or basket making, children may be more likely to decide to try new things.
  • Offering kids the chance to set and accomplish daily goals. The sheer amount of new activities makes it possible for kids to continually set and achieve goals, deepening their understanding of personal limits. One day a camper may be set on reaching the top of the climbing wall, and the next she may be determined to collaborate with her group to create a new song.
  • Helping children uncover new skills. Kids who are usually immersed in academics may become aware of new skills that they didn’t know they had. For children who struggle in school, these opportunities can increase self-confidence.
  • Providing time for reflection. Many camps begin or end the day with reflection activities, in which campers can think about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve grown, and what they’re excited for. These moments, rare in a typical school day, can develop self-awareness and mindfulness for all kids.

Additional Resources

Read the full American Camp Association report.

We Are All Here!!

Written by Laura & Greg Pierce - Owners/Directors

It’s July!! The camp is in full swing with children settling into cabins with names as strange now as they will be beloved soon… Abenaki, Kancamagus, Tecumseh, Devil’s Den.

Our bunks at Birchmont are named for great chiefs of Native American tribes that occupied these lands, and mighty rivers and mountains in this area of New Hampshire where we make our summer home. Its true enough our camp motto comes to life this week “There are no strangers within, only friends waiting to be met” and our campers are making friends and sharing smiles in all areas of camp life.

It’s also true what they say … A picture is with a thousand words and we will by summers end have a thousand pictures to share with you of your children, our campers, and we couldn’t be more excited as our 65th summer unfolds.

The weather has been picture perfect too, sunny skies, clear nights with just enough rain to sprinkle our ball fields and flowers. Our youngest campers have gotten out tubing on the lake at sunset, our 11 and under boys tennis took 2nd place at a regional tournament, and our girls are playing an inter-camp tennis competition today. Over 200 children have passed their laps, and we are sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding with friends and counselors. We have had our opening Firelight ceremonies under starry skies. The boys gathered at the huge stone fire pit overlooking the lake, and the girls Firelight was held in our Candlelight fire pit where long standing traditions are held, like Song Fest for Color War and of course our closing Candlelight. At the boys Firelight some staff new and old asked each camper to make the most of their time at camp, to go outside their comfort zone and try something different and to make a new friend. At the girls’ ceremony, every camper and counselor in camp were held together by one symbolic piece of yarn which was cut into bracelets as a remembrance of a first night together where we know we can become whoever we would like to at camp. If you’re the “arty” one at home, try some new sports, if you’re the ” sporty one, make a clay pot, if you’re the “little sister” learn to lead, if you are the “quiet one” reach out towards friendships. Camp is a beautiful place for invention, for goal making, turn taking, a place where all of us can be our best selves, and you know what… It doesn’t feel like work, or school, it just feels FUN!!

We have so much to look forward to as we go into this holiday weekend. We hope you enjoy your 4th of July, we have races, and ice cream sundaes, fireworks and more…

  • Birchmont Girls
  • Boys Tubing
  • Girls Tubing
  • Enjoying the Lake
  • Fun!
  • Friends In Bunk

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.

“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.”

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.