Blog 1

An introduction to the Why of Birch Trail

Hello from Birch Trail,

It’s been a great week at camp. The weather has been perfect and the campers and staff have been incredibly busy and active. For this summer’s blog I want to take you behind the scenes of what we do at camp and give you a peek “behind the curtain” to reveal a little of our camp magic. My hope is that with each blog post you will learn a little more of the “why” behind what we do at camp.

We have a lot of traditions at Birch Trail. Even better, we investigate those traditions often to make sure they are serving our campers in the best way possible. Our activities, schedule, even our rules have been crafted intentionally to support the needs and growth of each of our girls. Intertwined with our rich history is our commitment to asking “why?” of each plan, each decision, each choice we make. Keep reading our blog throughout the summer to learn what we know about how brains grow, and what feeds them best.

Each choice at Birch Trail is geared towards the social and emotional learning (SEL) of our campers. Once we’ve assured ourselves of their safety, we consider their SEL development our most important focus. Why? Because study after study shows that these are the skills that will help improve our campers’ lives, increase their quality of life and reduce their stress all year long, and even make them happier and more successful as adults.

At this point you may be asking yourselves, what is SEL? SEL is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Most experts agree that children and teens with high SEL skills are proficient in three core areas:
Emotional Skills, Interpersonal Skills and Cognitive Regulation Skills

Why does SEL matter?
Social and emotional learning is the best available predictor of which kids will thrive as adults. Groundbreaking studies from Google outlined the skills that made employees successful—and practical STEM knowledge came in dead last. They have adopted (along with hundreds of companies eagerly following in their footsteps) a different checklist of demonstrable, desirable traits in new employees:
· Communicating and listening well
· Empathy
· Critical thinking
· Problem solving
· Openness to new ideas (especially as it relates to managing cultural differences)
· Willingness to mentor
· Lateral thinking
· Emotional regulation and the ability to make others feel emotionally safe

Universities have not missed this research, and are changing their acceptance algorithms to reflect these abilities, which they believe students should possess before they arrive, coming to college only to further refine these skills.

Ok, Gabe, but where does SEL fit into camp and why are you telling me all of this in your blog? SEL is literally everywhere in camp. As you’ll see during this summer’s blog series, we don’t want to waste a single opportunity to help our campers develop these core competencies. Schools work to teach these as well, but they have many other priorities that compete for time and focus. At Birch Trail, we know that preparing children to live their very best lives is of the utmost importance, and we‘ve cultivated the expertise and environment to make that happen.

For this first post we are going to talk about the rite of passage that some of our camper face-homesickness.

Working through difficult emotions often propel cognitive and emotional development in children. In his book, Homesick and Happy – How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, author Michael Thomspon writes, “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.” For kids who have largely never been away from home longer than a weekend, and who have certainly not been asked to manage their own belongings, responsibilities, and relationships while they were, the challenges of academic life are entirely overshadowed by those of living on one’s own for the first time.

Birch Trail offers the unique opportunity to meet each girl at her own developmental level and, slowly and with support, allow her to grow into that independence. She learns how to keep track of her stuff, how to meet new people and try new activities, even dictate much of her own schedule. Summers at camp allow these changes and skills to grow in measured steps, with low stakes and surrounded by the structured support she needs

Many of our campers are homesick for a night or two. There are others who are homesick for three days or even a week. The Birch Trail Book Club provides an additional resource for campers working through feelings of homesickness. The book club is led by our Maple Village director and is open to anyone looking for some extra support and guidance. The group meets after lunch, offering support and structure from other kids going through the same struggles. Studies have found that peer support groups are often just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy. Groups not only help to ease a sense of isolation that often accompanies homesickness, but also give the opportunity to practice re-engaging with others. Joining the book club represents an important opportunity for campers to realize that they can take actions to improve their situation and feel better.

We have always looked at homesickness in a positive light. Being homesick just means that you like your family. If you like your family and you are away from them, then it makes sense that you would miss them. In this way, homesickness is not a bad thing or something to be worried about, it’s just an emotion and something that campers can work through with the support systems we have available at Birch Trail. If your daughter is homesick this summer, it means that she likes you and please rest assured that she is well taken care of and growing through this process. If you daughter is not homesick, please don’t worry- she still likes you too!

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