Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guest Post: Dick Thomas on Summer Camps and Finding the Right One

Dick Thomas was the director of Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine from 1987-2005. 

Dick increased the number of programs and types of children served.
He oversaw the growth of its wilderness programs and Girls Camp.  He even managed the accreditation process when Chewonki earned the highest possible score from the American Camping Association. 
Chewonki is on more than 400 acres on the coast of Maine, and added more property under Dick's leadership.
Dick left Chewonki and expanded his scope.  He started a service dedicated to helping parents find the right summer camp for their children (, one of the most critical steps often enough not done right the first time.  He has helped place children all over the United States, although he has an especially deep expertise in New England.

Dick today.

Dick shares some of his guiding philosophies around summer camps, including why they are so important (he has also spent time in academic roles and venues over the course of his professional life, but inevitably comes back to the summer camp model) and how to find the best fit. 

The process of finding the right program is seldom direct.  This is why Dick is in such high demand.   Here is what he said.

Summer Camp is Important
First, for a lot of children, the role of summer camp has been really important. Children who have summer camp experiences, and this is shown both through tests and just stories, generally are more confident.  They just have a richer set of experiences.  They have done more.

Summer camp also provides children with a balance to school.  Children can shine in different ways, and perhaps more importantly, different children shine.  Chewonki, for example, has provided early opportunities for many performers to practice in front of very friendly audiences.  Some of these people later became quite famous.

It can also be a clean slate for some children to get away from preconceived roles and redefine themselves.  If the camp is far enough away from their school and home, they can be whoever they want to be.

A Working Organic Farm

Preparing for 10-Day Canoe Trips
For these reasons and countless others, many parents describe their children, after summer camp, as being happier and more fulfilled than while in school.  One child in particular was so caught up in school activities in New York City and when he came to Camp he actually had a bit of a meltdown from all the pressure back home.  Camp provided him a needed escape - and exposure to a more relaxed, yet just as satisfying and growing experience.

A Fresh Start
The Right Fit
However, finding the right summer camp, or the right summer camps over the span of several years, can be a bit tricky, and be as much art as science.  There is no one answer for everyone.

Some things to take into account for each child:
  • Age (8 to 16)
  • Length of program (One week to eight weeks)
  • Skill specific vs. general; academic vs. recreational
  • How far away the program is from the family (Next door or a plane ride away)
  • Single gender or both
  • Cost
  • Overnight (residential) vs. day
  • Same as siblings and friends or not
  • Non-proft vs. profit; alignment of philosophies.

As children get older, they may want more specialized programs.

.Here is an opportunity to nurture lifelong passions.
A high level, generic approach may be something like:
  • 6,7,8 year old: some sort of general day camp, with periodic overnights at friends or grandparents
  • 10 year old: start overnight experiences, such as a week or two, at a more general camp
  • 12 year old: use longer programs and/or more specialized programs.  At this point, going away to camp, many hours away or even a plane flight away, can make it a very special and transformative experience.  
  • 14 year old, more intense, focused on a specific skills set

But obviously many, many variables should impact this.  All children are different.  Just some examples:
  • Regarding age:  Look to see if the child is doing overnights with friends and grandparents, structuring his or her own play without needing adults 
  • The length of program should align with what is available (more on that later) 
  • Skill specific vs. general: While as a rule, younger children should be exposed to more general programs; a first round of camps should be more generalized.  However, if a child is passionate about a topic, that makes sense to let them explore it.  
  • Single gender or both: There are no rules here, and it depends on the child.

The Process of Finding the Right Camp
Parents should start the process by casting a very broad net.  They should look online, such as at the American Camping Association.  Also, parents should talk to their friends, and parents of their children’s classmates.  Ideally, parents should get a broad list of 20 programs, perhaps in a few different categories.

Then, talk to the camps.  A first question is, is it easy to talk to the people in charge?  Or do you keep getting a phone answering machine.  Are messages not passed on?

Next, talk to alums and other parents.  A camp should be able to provide opportunities to meet up with other people who know the camp.  This is often in the form of meet ups, but it can just be local parents.  Parents really want to feel good about the program before moving on, and this can be for both tangible and intangible reasons.

Parents and children have to be comfortable.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
There are common mistakes.  Here are ways to avoid some of them

First, involve the children as much as possible.  What is a good fit for what the parent wants is not necessarily a good fit for what the child wants.  Obviously an 8 year is different than a 12 year old in ability to make decisions, but work closely with him or her.  Find specific activities the child is most excited about doing.

Find specific activities that excite a child.
Also, make sure the camp is set up around the time frame they want to engage. A good summer program has a beginning, middle, and end.  This may be around one week, or three and a half, or seven.  It is typically very hard for the same camp to manage multiple length experiences equally - they almost always tend to bias towards one time frame.  It can be a bad fit, then, for a child to go to a seven week program, that consists of seven one-week programs.  Similarly, if the camp is set up for a summer long program, even if a shorter period is offered, it can feel incomplete to either leave half way through or jump in half way through.

Third, though you want to learn about summer experiences from family and friends, don’t assume your child should go with friends to Camp.  Part of the experience is self-esteem and confidence-building.  Some parents will not even recommend “their” Camp to their friends, wanting to insure a unique experience for their child.

For many children, summer camp becomes as critical or more than schools for setting up skills, interests, knowledge of self, even lifelong passions and mission.  Finding the right one, while requiring work, can lead to some of the most enduring accomplishments of childhood.

In this post, pictures 1, 4, 5, and 8 came from Dick's archives.  The rest came from ours. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mory's Clock - A Small Piece of New Haven History

This is a picture of a clock given to Mory's founder, Frank Moriarty, in 1866.  This clock was later given to the father of a friend by Frank Moriarty, to settle a debt.  

“Presented to Mr. Frank Moriarty from some of his many friends as a testimony of their esteem of his character as a man. February 22. 1866.”  

Inscription on clock

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Scalloping in Chatham, Massachusetts (Late 1960's)

Back in the late 1960s, Willard Nickerson was scalloping in Chatham, Massachusetts.    He was a third generation fisherman, whose family started Nickerson Fish and Lobster.  And those familiar with the history of Cape Cod know that Chatham was first settled in 1664 by William Nickerson.

Here are some photos from our archives.

Of course there are Crown Pilot crackers.

As with hunting dogs, decoys, sailboats, pheasants, anchors, nautical knots and charts, and whales, scallop shells have become such iconic motifs that they can easily drift into pure mall store ether. So it is nice to return to source and tap the reality of the attributes they represent - productive, tough, outdoor, active, and natural- rather than just accept others' commercial attempt to turn them into exactly the opposite.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Great New England Libraries: Branford, Connecticut's James Blackstone Memorial Library

New England has so many good libraries and some, perhaps including Camden's and Concord's, rise to the top.  One of the great libraries of New England is Branford, Connecticut's James Blackstone Memorial Library.

In the medium sized coastal town of Branford, it is an architectural outlier.  The town has a long history, originally settled in 1638  (then called Totoket) as part of New Haven.  It has gone through several transformations over almost four hundred years, including into a resort destination in the 1800s which ended around the time of the 1938 hurricane.  Today it is known not only for its unique waterfront communities like Stony Creek,  Pine Orchard, and Pawson Park, but unfortunately for the sheer number of condominiums.  But in the middle of it all stands the grand James Blackstone Memorial Library.

All of the marble, white for the outside and pink for the inside, came from Tennessee.

Trying out two new items that were recently sent.

All libraries provide some of our best public spaces and so many across New England are perfect for a wifi fix.

The murals were painted by Oliver Dennett Grover.... were the medallion portraits of famous authors Bryant, Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell and Stowe.

Perhaps a space should have been reserved for Larry and Sergey.

Some like to go to hear Yale's Whiffenpoofs perform, in part due to the superb acoustics. 

The floor tiles were designed in Paris specifically for the library.

Designed by Chicago architect Solon Spencer Beman and completed in 1896, the library was paid for by Timothy Blackstone in honor of his father James who grew up in Branford, and was a Captain in the Connecticut Militia. 
The two bronze doors at the entrance were designed by William Fitzroy Smith and weigh 2.000 pounds each.

Austin Jeffers Polished Leather and Waxed Canvas tote that was sent.

These Bass Weejuns were also sent.

The Branford Green

The Town Hall

Congregational Church Steeple

These (from our archives) were taken back in the early 1960s: