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.

Huh?

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Many (this woman included) would say that I’m doing my children a serious disservice by choosing a quaint and out-of-date ideal instead.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 lauraclydesdale.com. Follow her on Twitter @l_clydesdale.

Working at Camp is the Best First Job

Written by Greg Pierce - Owner/Director, Camp Birchmont

Written by Susie Lupert, Executive Director – American Camping Association New York & New Jersey

I’m always surprised when I speak with parents of high school and college-aged young adults about the summer opportunities they are hoping their child will secure for the summer. For the most part, they would like their child to get an internship or an office job to help them become successful in future employment. While many might feel working at an investment bank or a real estate firm would look better on their child’s resume, any future hirer who has worked at a summer camp knows that camp counselors gain important skills that today’s employers are seeking. I’m not discounting what a good experience these jobs can be, however, I know as a summer camp professional that the true hands-on learning that prepares young people for their careers happens when they work as a counselor at camp.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a group of businesses, education leaders and policymakers including the U.S Department of Education, AOL Time Warner Foundation, Apple Computer, Inc., Cisco Systems, Inc. and others, found there is a large gap between the information students’ gain in school and the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

They performed extensive research on the skills they identified as necessary to becoming successful adults in life and work in the 21st century. Many of the essential skills needed for success are all fostered at camp including oral communication, collaboration, work ethic, creativity, leadership, social skills, problem solving and critical thinking.

Each summer, counselors at camp are given many opportunities to gain important learning skills for future employment. They experience responsibility by leading a group of children and making sure all their needs are taken care of. Every day, staff make sure campers get to their activities on time, which helps them work on their time-management skills. Counselors are also constantly communicating about schedules and programs with the camp directors, fellow peers and dozens of campers each day.

For a generation accustomed to texting every thought, counselors actually have to interact face to face, which hones their communication skills. There are many moving parts during a camp day with many activities happening simultaneously, meals being served to hundreds of campers and numerous children swimming in both the pool and the lake all at once. Young adults learn the importance of collaboration and teamwork to ensure everything goes smoothly — a camp simply wouldn’t function without each staff member working together as part of a team.

Throughout the year, camp leadership staff coordinates activities and special events for the summer, however, you can’t plan for everything. If it rains or children aren’t enjoying the activity as much as expected, counselors need to think quickly and switch gears. This allows young staff members to practice problem solving, a skill that every profession requires an employee to have.

There is no other job I can think of that empowers young people to gain such valuable skills and experiences that will help them in future employment than working at a camp. Forget the internship — encourage your child to apply for a camp job today.

Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids

Written by Camp Birchmont -

We hope you find this article helpful in maintaining a healthy and appropriate balance between your child’s real and digital lifestyle.

Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids
by: Deborah Heitner, The New York Times

The challenge of growing up in the digital age is perfectly epitomized by the bikini rule.

“You can post a bikini or bathing suit picture only if you are with your siblings or your family in the picture,” said one middle-school girl who was participating in a focus group on digital media. In other words, don’t try too hard to be sexy and you’ll be O.K. in the eyes of your peers.

By high school, the rules change. At that stage, a bikini picture often is acceptable, even considered “body positive” in some circles.

As an educational consultant, I lead workshops on digital media at schools around the country, giving me an unusual glimpse into the hidden world of middle and high school students. While parents sometimes impose rules for using social media on their kids, the most important rules are those that children create for themselves.

And these often unspoken rules can be dizzying.

Girls want to be sexy, but not too sexy. Be careful which vacation photos you share so you don’t seem to brag. It’s O.K. to post photos from a fun event, but not too many.

In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all of the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users.  It was clear that they understood the dynamics of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of rules about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel, using the example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social codes, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project the girl had displayed pictures from her vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered it an immature form of “bragging,” and said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment some parents even encouraged. A few said their moms did not want them to hang out with a particular girl because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, leading to hurt feelings and conflicts.

Middle school can be an especially complicated time for girls. They are experimenting with social identity, even as their always-on digital world intensifies the scrutiny. Many want to be seen as pretty (even sexy, in some ways), but also as innocent and as “nice.” This is an impossible balancing act. Parents can help by suggesting more empowering alternatives to posting bathing suit pictures.

Another group of seventh graders (of mixed gender and in a different community) told me the rules regarding how many pictures to post from an event. There was a sense of what was acceptable and what was not. Posting one to three images was fine, they said, but all agreed it was “obnoxious” to “blow up people’s phones” with a huge stream of images from a party or event.

These kinds of images can lead to feelings of exclusion as well. Imagine watching a party unfold, in real time, on Snapchat or Instagram, when you aren’t there. The experience can be absolutely devastating to tween and teenage children. When I asked these seventh graders about it, they said that it happened all the time, and that it can be hard to deal with.

With their lives constantly on display, it’s a challenge for even well-intentioned tweens to avoid making others feel excluded. The “rule” was that it is “better not to lie or make excuses” if you are with one friend and another friend wants to hang out. Better to be honest and say, “I have plans,” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” then take a risk when sharing images of yourself out with friends later.

Parents often feel as if their children’s smartphones are portals to another world — one that they know little to nothing about. A study released last month found that fewer than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tween and teenage children.

But parents need to know that their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media, and that they should ask their kids about them. What are you “allowed” to post, and what seems to be off-limits? Are the rules the same for boys and girls? Why or why not? Can you show me an example of a “good” post, or a “bad” one? Does social media ever stress you out (and can you give yourself a break)? How can kids in your group make group texts or social media nicer for everyone?

In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers in teenagers’ brains respond to the reward of getting “likes” on Instagram exactly as they do to thoughts of sex or money. And just as parents try to teach children self-control around those enticements, they must also talk to them about not falling victim to behavior they will regret when craving those “likes.”

As parents, we don’t want our kids to make a big mistake online: writing something mean in a group text, posting a too-sexy picture or forwarding one of someone else. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there.

Getting your children to articulate the unspoken rules can be the first step in helping them be more understanding of their peers. When we observe our children harshly judging others who have a different sensibility about the use of social media, they need us to set aside our judgments about their world, and help them cultivate empathy for one another.

Devorah Heitner is the author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.”

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

words-from-our-woods
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!