Choosing the right summer camp may be the most important decision of the summer. When trying to select the best camp, start with this question: What type of experience would your child like? If your child is old enough to answer this question, you may be surprised at the response. Does your child want to sharpen skills or discover new adventures, be challenged or just have fun?
When searching for a camp, it’s important to understand the types of experiences that your child will encounter along the way. Camp includes an educational component to help maintain skills learned in the classroom and to prepare for the next school year.
Another question to ask is whether your child would like to attend day camp, or can manage spending the night away from home. Choosing a sleepaway camp can be a daunting task for parents whose child has never been away from home. However, you can be guaranteed that your child will return with confidence and self-reliance. Camp counselors are trained to manage group dynamics and empower children to participate in activities. For some children, camp can be a way to reinvent themselves.
One way to learn about camp features is by checking with former campers and camp counselors. Find out about the typical camp day routine and if/when any free time is included. Ask about weekend activities, how adjustment issues are handled and how discipline or behavioral problems are managed. What about the menu — are meals nutritious and fresh? How often do the campers receive a hot meal? If your child has food allergies, make sure that the staff can handle specific needs and emergency situations that may arise.
Finances are also important. Some camps offer Scholarships or financial aid based on need, which is not often advertised in the brochure or on the website. Often camps have payment plans and sibling discounts. Some camps offer discounts for early registration.
Ask about staff training, background checks, safety programs and the camper injury record. If your child is attending a special interest camp, make sure that the staff has an interest in and experience with the particular focus of that camp. Don’t be afraid to ask for references, which is the best way to check the reputation of the camp. Camper-to-staff ratio and supervision during activities are important discussion points.
If you are nervous about sending your child to sleepaway camp, day camps are a great option. Your child will meet new friends, be part of a community and will be happy to return home at the end of the day. Day camps are diverse: Some focus on sharpening athletic skills, while others challenge academically by concentrating on arts and sciences, and others can teach outdoor adventure in rural areas. These types of camps are operated by local organizations. One advantage to day camps is that children can attend at a younger age. Some of these camps also operate during breaks from school.
Most children are ready to attend sleepaway camp by the age of 12. The advantage to sleepaway camp is that a child has more time to adjust to and get comfortable with the environment while learning. He will develop accountability for himself and others. Older children and teens also learn leadership skills that may not have been apparent before attending camp. When considering sleepaway camp, you must think about how flexible and adaptable your child is, because sleep routines and meals are altered and your child will step out of his comfort zone in order to grow and learn. Some camps offer partial summer options, which families looking to ease into a sleepaway environment may want to consider.
Camps designed for children with certain health needs are also available. Options include camp for the blind, asthma camp, ADHD and LD camp and other disability camps. If your child takes medication or has special needs, it’s best to discuss with your health care provider the possibility of sleepaway camp. If your provider and your child agree on camp attendance, your provider should create special instructions based on your child’s health and needs.
Speaking with the camp director or visiting the camp will give you an idea of the accommodations offered. Remember to ask about the medical staff and availability of a camp physician or a nurse practitioner. Your child will require all medical information describing her needs, plus medications and equipment. If she self-manages her medical condition at home, she will also be responsible at camp, but the medical provider will monitor her status. If a specific medical needs camp seems like the right step, consider searching for a camp through your child’s specialists or national chapters representing the disease, such as the American Diabetes Association or the American Lung Association. Local hospitals are also helpful in obtaining resources.
It’s important to make sure that your child is healthy and in good physical condition to attend the type of camp chosen. Most summer camps require a camp physical during the spring before attending camp. By having a camp physical performed by your child’s provider, you can be assured that she is healthy enough to attend and participate in activities while away from home.
At the clinic visit, your provider will examine all body systems and answer any questions that you or she may have before going to camp. If your child has asthma, it’s important that she remember all daily medications plus a rescue inhaler that may be needed. Being in the woods can trigger allergies or asthma attacks, so your child should be prepared to alert the staff if she feels sick. If she has any environmental allergies, research the area to fi nd out if you should send any treatment. Your child’s provider can review the what-ifs of allergy control while at camp. At the camp physical, don’t forget to ask about ticks and bug bite treatment. Your provider will also discuss sunscreen, which your child will need if involved in outdoor activities.
Choosing the best summer camp for your child will guarantee a positive, memorable experience. Kids need to release the pressure from day-to-day life and escape the repetition of classroom learning. By attending summer camp, they develop character traits and build memories. They are placed in a natural environment that encourages play, outside activities and conversation. Whichever camp you choose for your child will provide a safe place to learn and think independently.
Becca Looney, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, has been a pediatric registered nurse since 2006, and a nurse practitioner since 2012. Her passion is to eliminate childhood obesity by getting children to live a healthier lifestyle.