My Favorite Vacation: Summer Camp

We take vacations for many reasons. To explore the world. To retreat from the world. To repair broken hearts. To test new hearts, or to rest. To push ourselves to our physical limits. But the most profound vacations are the ones in which we reinvent ourselves. A tall order; how can a few short weeks alter the course of a lifetime? Two words: summer camp.

This vacation was foisted upon me when I was 12. Only my mother, who is French, would locate a place in which campers were required to speak French — and this, in the middle of bucolic Vermont. Only my mother would find a place so fixated on clothing that we had to go to a special store in New York City that sold only outfits for camps and schools. A world I had never even imagined existed. I packed a large trunk with French blue cotton shorts and shirts, the requisite red wool blazer and white uniform for Sundays, and lots of knee socks.

I had rarely been away from home; I was not even allowed to join sleepovers. I cried with homesickness for exactly one night. Those eight weeks, at Ecole Champlain, on the shores of Lake Champlain, just outside Ferrisburg, turned out to be a highlight of my life. Thinking back on this time, I realize that subconsciously, I’ve spent years working my way back to living as if I were still in summer camp.

The schedules. Every single hour of every single day was regimented. No decisions to make. Just show up for your assigned sport. No empty hours in which to find boredom, or to wallow in longing or anxiety. Activity! And it all started with a shotgun of bugle music, blasted over loudspeakers, a choreography of scheduling from reveille to taps. To this day, when I hear taps, I choke with the beauty of a world so aptly demarcated. It is a wonder that I never joined the military.

Camp days unfurled through hours of things utterly foreign to me: tennis, and beadwork, and operetta (yes, we sang farces, in French, of course) and swimming, miles of swimming in water so cold we would feel as if our hearts and lungs would explode in those first few weeks of summer. Water so dark we couldn’t see our fingers as they pulled through a stroke.

My childhood had been one of public school days, then hours at the piano practicing for the competitions in which my mother would enroll me, then hours and hours of homework. I didn’t have “play dates” — what a waste of time, and besides, these American girls weren’t properly raised, and their mothers! They wasted time playing tennis, and gardening. I certainly wasn’t allowed to participate in anything that involved balls hurtling at me at high speeds. I might break a finger.

Suddenly, my life was one long, wonderful play date. I developed deep friendships, with people of my choosing, and we not only talked about everything, a first for me, but we did things together. Active, sporting things.

Even more startling to me was that I actually had — no, I was — a body that enjoyed moving, loved running, and hiking, and canoeing, and bows and arrows, and swimming long distances. What’s more, I was good at some of the very things that would have horrified my mother, who, it turns out, really had no idea what was going on in Vermont. Sailing, for instance. I’d never set foot in a boat. Once I learned about trimming sails to the wind, I never wanted to leave the boat. Except to get behind a boat, when I learned to water ski.

That was the true breakthrough. Part of the motivation, at first, were the adorable counselors. But soon I fell in love with the speed. Never mind that everything had to be done in French — “Vas-y!,” we would shout, “Go on!,” and young men (of course) would gun the engines, pull us off the dock and tow us out onto glassy black waters. Wipeouts often involved losing bits and pieces of bathing suits. But nothing could dim the pleasure of wiping out — being allowed to wipe out, being urged not to be careful, being pushed to the edge of what I could do, thrilling to the burn of water across my shoulder when I skidded to the edge of a ski in a low slalom.

Those red blazers, our Sunday formal attire, had one purpose. They were meant to be decorated with badges — badges for achievement in swimming, diving, tennis, you name it. We were all intensely privileged, as we were reminded, over and over again. There was something called character-building, and we were awarded pins for kindnesses done, moments of leadership. I still do not believe that being competitive is a bad thing — and why exactly are we raising children to think they are always winners? — because I learned to celebrate other people’s wins, too. And I learned that while a race is great fun, it isn’t everything.

Dirt under my nails. I didn’t touch a piano the entire summer, though I wrote home saying I practiced every day. Dirt between my toes. We were barefoot in grass for hours at a time — and now, naturally, I have to check my body for ticks if I so much as set foot on a lawn. No one worried about such things then.

Cold water on our faces, rough floorboards under our grimy feet, planks of wood for toilets. Huge group breakfasts with endless amounts of food, fragrant from an industrial kitchen, with a morning prayer sung in French. “Bénissez-nous, Seigneur.”

And the darkness. I had never been given permission to have a night life, and the possibility of one outside in the dark would not have even occurred to me, but at camp we had entire nighttimes of rituals that were about as enthralling as anything I’ve ever experienced. Give me a campfire over a gala ball anytime. We would hike a long trail at dusk to a clearing in the woods, where logs piled in tepees were already burning hot, sparks shooting up into the canopy of trees. We sat on the soft, piney ground in circles. The counselors played guitars, and we sang our hearts out. Mostly the songs were in French, of course (because the counselors were all French, too), but I noticed that the girls who didn’t have French mothers got the hang of them. We did, however, sing “Kumbaya.” And I still love it.

I am a creature of habit. When I find somewhere I like, I settle. I don’t have a bucket list of places I want to see before I die. But I do have a bucket list of ways I want to live until I die. When I visit any new place, I’m filled with fantasies of how, exactly, I could live in a cottage on the coast of Wales, or a beach shack on the shores of Baja. Easily. What I learned at camp was that I love the absorption into a communal culture, with its structures and values, but that I also enjoy that as a springboard for testing my limits, and that engaging with the magic and beauty of our natural world is deeply meaningful, and comforting, to me. I never want to be far from water, and I need a fireplace.

Eventually, the camp closed down. On its site is a state park. But a few times in my life, I’ve fallen in love with houses in which I could recreate some sense of the freedom, discovery and splendor of those days. Houses that were rough and creaky and could be opened to the outdoors without worry of what damp air might do to them. Houses against which I could bank up kayaks and canoes. Houses where I could garden, because I can give myself permission to get my hands dirty.

One of the first things I do, wherever I spend my summer vacations, is to find the spot for a campfire. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to mix a Manhattan, head into the woods surrounding my house in Rhode Island, set up my campfire, and watch it burn.

I have a dear friend from camp days who lives nearby in summer. She and her spouse came over one evening with their young children. I had all the activities planned: the walk on the mossy path, the search for a salamander that had mysteriously appeared on my doorstep, and a campfire.

I had piled it high, carefully structured, just as I had been taught. I lit a match to it while the children sat on a couple of big rocks I had had dragged up to form a circle, and as the sky darkened, and the flames began flicking high up into the air, my dear old camp friend and I burst spontaneously into the song that always started campfires, a song neither of us had sung out loud in front of anyone in, who knows, probably 40 years. “Entendez-vous dans le feu”:

“Entendez-vous dans le feu, Tous ces bruits mystérieux?” (“Do you hear, in the fire, all those mysterious noises?”)

The children were saucer-eyed. So this is what grown-ups do at night. So this is the magic and mystery and pleasure of a fire to guard against the dark. And I was enthralled, too, watching those dear faces gathered around the fire. So this is love. And this is being a grown-up camper in the world, forever young enough to wonder at the mystery and magic and pleasure of it all.

Original article published in The New York Times.

Camp’s Legacy

If you ask a child to describe camp, the response would probably include fun, friends, swimming, Color War and of course the quintessential “bug juice.” We would all agree that this is an accurate picture. Yet, to truly appreciate the amazing and awesome value of camp and its enduring impact on a child’s life, one needs to look below the idyllic highlights.

The extraordinary process of a child’s personal growth and development during the summer seems meteoric. No sooner have the campers stepped off the bus for the first day of camp, they become fully immersed in activities and cabin life, arriving home looking older, standing taller and exuding a new found confidence. For some, the biggest hurdle will be boarding the bus in the morning, for others it will be putting their face in the water or learning to dive, or even hitting a pitched ball. There is no “one size fits all,” in terms of each child’s progress and expectations. The process itself is significant, not just the end result.

We applaud their perseverance, as they navigate challenges, embrace their developing strengths and expand their repertoire of skills, both personal and physical. Right before our eyes we view the transition of reluctance to confidence, reserve to animation, and dependency to autonomy. The global camp experience provides transferable skills and promotes greater self-awareness that is meaningful well beyond the summer. Its positive benefits continue to pay dividends and are applicable to all of life’s relationships, academic studies and careers.

It is a privilege to be part of this endeavor and to watch our campers blossom as they are steeped in the camp experience. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and your children as we embark on the 2016 summer at Pierce.


The Value of Camp – Now more important than ever!

Summer camp…a time tested American tradition is very possibly more important today than ever before!

There exists today a great deal of data on the value of play in child development. Kids need exercise; they need opportunities to be creative and unstructured time to play with peers.

Recent studies state that kids today spend about 60 hours per week looking at screens! A shocking number! Smart phones, ipads, TV’s, computers, tablets, iwatches, xboxes and more…

At Pierce, we have developed a program to teach and integrate 21st Century Skills into our daily programming here at camp. It is our strong opinion that pushing the core competency skills within the 21st Century Skills movement will benefit both our campers and staff.

At Pierce, we UNPLUG, greatly reducing the amount of technology consumption.

In an unpluggegd environment, camp helps children develop emotional self control, allowing them to find connections within themselves, a vital part of growing up. Camp also provides a unique environment for kids to learn how to share, co-create and collaborate with one another, developing friendship skills along the way. We will be working on and encouraging our campers on a list of skills…Kindness and Respect, Responsibility, Creativity, Leadership, Cooperation, Communication, Flexibility, Adaptability, Self control, and Teamwork.

Here at Pierce, we view ourselves as Child Development Professionals.
We will all enjoy watching the progress and personal growth our kids make this summer on our fields, in our pools and at our program areas.

Camp is the place where this can and will happen.

PIERCE…We Teach Success!

The Importance of Sport

PCDC Summer 2016Sport plays a big role in teaching values and principles. Teamwork, leadership, work ethic, sportsmanship, and trust are all part of the game and are factors in how we make the most of our lives. Through sports, kids can see the results that come from repeating certain skills in order to perfect them. They develop a more positive self-image through personal achievement and learn that if they spend enough time on a task they will eventually become better at it. At Pierce, we stress fundamental skill development through our extensive daily schedule and specialized clinics. Our goal is to help the young people of today learn these lessons in order to have better lives tomorrow.


What does camp have to offer my 3 or 4 year old?

Summer 2016

Author Kim Abrusci

Working with 2-year-olds during the school year at Pierce I am often asked this by prospective camp parents. Why should I pay this much money to send my child to camp? What will they actually learn? Is it worth the money? Is it necessary? Having worked with this age group at Pierce for over 20 years I feel confident with my experience as an employee of Pierce as well as a camp parent to say YES it is worth the money and YES it is necessary.

Pierce Country Day Camp is a warm and nurturing environment that prides itself on the social and emotional growth of children. This is clearly explained in their motto, “Children First”. Yes, children learn how to improve their physical abilities through athletics while they are here but in addition, their self-esteem is also fostered and nurtured. At the young age of 3 and 4 children learn how to build their confidence and develop independence at Pierce. Through their daily involvement in group activities and receiving positive feedback throughout the day for their achievements our campers learn to take pride in themselves. There is nothing better than witnessing a 3-year-old celebrating after mastering a new swim skill or watching them take pride in their ability to kick a soccer ball into the goal. These celebrations are acknowledged by the group which provides the child the experience of being part of a team and helps them to learn mutual respect and admiration. Keep in mind this is all achieved away from any connections to “screens” and independent of their parents.

Young children of this age are so full of energy and curious about the world. Camp offers them the opportunity to explore and experience new activities in a safe, loving, and, of course, beautiful environment. Our staff is fully invested in understanding the growth and development of children so that they may reach their full potential. Each camper is treated as an individual with love and respect. Their well-being is our first priority. As a Supervisor, my job is validated when I hear a parent say during a camp visit, “Wow, I can’t believe this is my child!”, “They are so independent!”, and “They have grown so much!” It makes me proud to be a part of such a life-changing event for families. As I mentioned earlier, I am also a camp parent. I have witnessed my own three children grow and flourish at Pierce. The life skills they have learned at Pierce throughout the years you cannot put a price tag on. I do believe that the camp experience definitely helped to build their character while leaving them with memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Day Camp

Our program grows as your child grows. Here is what you can look forward to this summer…

At Pierce, our campers can look forward to NEW and exciting programming from year to year as they “climb the ladder” with us. We want to share with you some of the big differences in our camp-wide program as our campers move up from our five-year-old groups and enter our six-year-old curriculum.

    • At the age of 6, the boys groups have an all male staff: General Counselors and Group Leaders.Summer 2016
    • Our 6’s move up to our beautiful Intermediate Pool with double chute water slides.
    • League Play – Our athletic program makes a significant jump forward with more intramural play!
    • Bowling – Once every 10 days, our 6’s will enjoy a short field trip for bowling…They love it!
    • Archery – A camp favorite is now enjoyed by all of our 6’s!
    • Sky-Fly – Our zip lines over our pond are scheduled and enjoyed…
    • Cranium Club (S.T.E.M) – Air conditioned and very creative, our new STEM program has become hugely popular. Another creative offering this year is called CLUB TUNES!
    • Summer 2016Bungee – Enjoyed by all… Now scheduled weekly for 6’s!
    • Tennis and Volleyball – These sports now becomes part of their weekly schedules
    • The 6’s Pow Wow is now at night! Complete with our famous Jump Through the Hoop of Fire!
Summer 2016

Food Allergies

One in every 13 children in the U.S. is affected by food allergies or intolerances. In a camp of 300 children, that means as many as 23 children may require special meal preparation.

All food allergies are not created equal. If a child with a peanut allergy is exposed to peanuts, it is often a life-threatening situation requiring immediate medical attention. If a child with celiac disease is exposed to gluten, they will likely have abdominal discomfort and associated symptoms, which may not occur until 72 hours after the exposure.

Handling food allergies effectively requires coordination of safe food handling, meal preparation, meal provision and dealing with exposure, so having a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is considered best practice. Only an RDN has multiple layers of nutrition education and is considered the expert in handling such serious nutrition issues. Many camps are staffing nutrition professionals to handle everything from meal planning to gluten-free meal preparation to carbohydrate counting for campers with diabetes. If you do not have a nutrition professional on staff, some basic facts regarding food allergies are included below.

What is a food allergy?
An abnormal response to a food triggered by our body’s immune system resulting in symptoms.

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system attacks a food protein that is normally harmless. The body responds by producing large amounts of histamine, which can result in symptoms that can be life threatening. These symptoms may include: swelling of the mouth, throat and tongue, difficulty breathing, lowered blood pressure and gastrointestinal distress.

A true food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance. The term “food intolerance” encompasses any adverse reaction to a food source that is not caused by an immune response.

What are the most common food allergies?
The following eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, soy and wheat.

How many people do they affect?
Nearly 8 percent of school-age children suffer from food allergies.

How to provide safe meals?

  • Prepare meals for those with allergies in a separate area using pots, pans, toasters and utensils kept for those foods only.
  • Wash your hands and all surfaces prior to preparing meals.
  • Use squeeze bottles for condiments to avoid putting contaminated utensils into a jar.
  • Read all food labels; allergens can be found in many unexpected places, including seasonings and condiments.

What do you do if accidental exposure occurs?
Understand which allergy or intolerance you are dealing with.

For allergies that result in anaphylaxis, epinephrine, in the form of an EpiPen, is the medication of choice for controlling a severe reaction.

For milder reactions, an antihistamine may be adequate.

For accidental exposure to gluten, there is often no need for intervention. Celiac disease is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction. Symptoms generally occur 48 to 72 hours after exposure and may present as abdominal pain, bloating, and/or diarrhea.

It is becoming increasing popular to follow a gluten-free diet. For some it is for a true celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that leads to damage of the small intestine with gluten ingestion. For others, there is a perceived health or weight loss benefit. In order to provide healthy gluten-free meals (not just pre-made, frozen meals) in an environment free of cross contamination, the staff preparing and providing the meals must be educated. The following link is a great resource for camps providing this service:

Caring for other people’s children is an immense responsibility. Providing safe and healthy meals is one of the most important aspects of a safe and healthy summer. Best wishes for a healthy Camp Season 2016!

Camp: The Old Neighborhood for a New Generation

Spring is in the air and we are looking ahead at our 99th summer here at Pierce Country Day Camp! I came across this terrific article in Camping Magazine which discusses the values of camp and the teachings of 21st Century Skills, which we promote here at Pierce.

Check out the article here!

Happenings at Pierce

Greetings from Camp!

We are very pleased to announce,

Doug Pierce will be receiving the prestigious “Legends of Camping” award from American Camp Association.

Doug Pierce

Doug will be inducted into the elite group of Legends of Camping at the Conrad Hotel in New York City at the upcoming annual SCOPE dinner in April. SCOPE – Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education is an independent, non-profit organization committed to providing camp and college scholarships to low-income, inner-city children. To date, SCOPE has provided over 25,000 scholarships since its inception in 1991. Doug, a co-founder of SCOPE, currently serves on its board of directors. The evening will also be a proud celebration of SCOPE’s 25th Anniversary. The Legends Award is among the highest honors the American Camp Association awards to members who personify commitment and passion for camp and community. “I am very proud to be inducted into the Legends of Camping,” states Doug. “I am deeply honored to join such an outstanding group, and to have been nominated by my professional peers.”

Courtney Pierce assumes the role of President of LICAPS – Long Island Camps and Private Schools.

Courtney Pierce

Courtney Pierce, a Director at Pierce Country Day Camp, has been elected President of The Long Island Association of Private Schools and Day Camps (LICAPS). LICAPS, founded some 60 years ago, is a professional association of the premier private summer day camps on Long Island. Approximately 25 camps from both Nassau and Suffolk Counties are currently members. Courtney is the fifth Pierce family member to be elected President of LICAPS following her grandfather who was a founding member, her father Doug and her uncles Greg and Forrester. LICAPS is dedicated to Health, Education and Recreation, while promoting best practices in the field.

Courtney, working alongside her cousin Will, is currently a Director at Pierce Country Day Camp. Courtney and Will represent fourth generation Pierce family members at the helm as Pierce approaches its 99th summer season in 2016!

New in 2016

What’s New in 2016!?

Hello from Camp!

We have been having a blast putting the finishing touches on what surely will be a summer to remember. We have always re-invested in our operation at very high levels to ensure that the summer experience offered at Pierce is second to none. Take a look at some of the new things you will find this year at camp; we think that you are really going to like it here! Continue reading