From the beginning, Treetops was unique among camps of the era: coeducational, noncompetitive, and welcoming to children of diverse backgrounds. Treetops emphasized values that remain true to this day—child-centered education, community, the fostering of self-reliance and confidence, living in harmony with nature, learning by doing, and preserving a child’s world through a summer unplugged.
Camp Treetops was founded in 1921 by progressive educators Donald and Dorothy Slesinger. It was one of the first camps for young children that utilized the ideas and ideals of progressive education to help define its philosophy. For the Slesingers, whose main educational influences were progressive educators, John Dewey and William Kirkpatrick, founding a progressive summer camp was a response to the industrialization and urbanization of America.
Helen and Douglas Haskell joined the Camp staff in 1926 and were appointed as directors three years later in 1929. For the next four decades, the Haskells continued to shape Treetops in accordance with progressive views of education—notably that too much structure and competition stifle children’s natural curiosity and creativity.
The rhythm of a Treetops day has remained largely unchanged since Camp’s founding. Campers wake every morning not from a bugle call of reveille but from a counselor’s gentle nudge. They choose their own activities and plan their own days, a practice that helps foster their independence and self-confidence. They perform daily work jobs and sleep in living quarters apart (but not far) from their counselors.
In 1938, Helen’s sister and brother-in-law, educators Leonora and Walter Clark, opened North Country School on Camp property to extend Treetops’ ideals to an academic setting. Ever since, Camp and School have operated in tandem – sharing facilities, a guiding philosophy, and a single Board of Trustees instituted with the reorganization of the two programs into one non-profit in 1957. Today, Camp and School continue to share the campus and their mission and values.
We all want the good life for our children. We wish youngsters to progress steadily toward independence, maturity, and confident responsibility, with a chance for unhurried, individual growth, good health, and happiness along the way.
– Helen Haskell