Visions of flip-flops and barbecues help kids and adults alike fight off the blues and tolerate the Arctic chill of the long winter months. When you’re a child, summer usually means a break from the rigors of academics in favor of activities that might be largely neglected during the school year. One of the most popular places for kids to spend their summers is at camp. If you’re interested in sending your child to camp and haven’t already started making plans, now is precisely the time to do so.
Where to begin? The American Camp Association, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Supercamp have excellent resources. In addition, you will want to consider the following points in order to find the ideal match for your child.
Theme. Think about whether your child wants to attend. If he is interested, you must decide on the camp’s specialty. Camps can be general interest, sport-specific, religiously centered, musical, academic, scouting (children usually do not have to be a member of a troop) and health condition and disease-focused.
Session. The next decision is whether your child should attend a day camp or an overnight camp. You should take into account your child’s age, her preference, your inclination as a parent, and her ability to be away from home successfully — along with the duration of the session. Some camps will require a child to participate for as little as one week, while others require an eight-week commitment. Camp is a great way for children to learn responsibility, spend time with peers, hone their skills, become part of a community and be independent from their parents. Camp may be filled with late nights, continuous activity and ongoing excitement.
Location. Some families may prefer a camp that is local (especially for day camps), while others may want a more rustic experience, which might mean traveling to another area or state. Still, others might like an urban setting, where opportunity for community interaction is heightened. If you’re considering a residential camp, take into account whether your child might be homesick and whether you can get to the camp quickly in the event of an emergency. With day camp, you should evaluate the transportation arrangements. How will your child travel to and from the camp? Is there after-camp care for parents who work longer than the camp day?
Budget. One of the most important concerns for parents is cost. Some camps, especially overnight camps, can cost thousands of dollars just to attend — and this does not include the cost of clothes, athletic equipment and transportation to and from the camp. The budget for camp is largely at the parents’ discretion, although scholarships may be available for those who qualify.
Special needs. When choosing a camp, you should also discuss any special needs your child has with a camp director prior to enrollment — including food restrictions, medical conditions requiring nursing care and/or campground modification, and activity limitations.
Children’s health. Keeping kids healthy is a main focus for all involved in the camp experience. While there are no guarantees, there are steps to take to increase the chances of having an illness-free summer. You can help achieve this goal by sending your child to camp in healthy condition. Children with fever should not attend until they are at least fever-free for 24 hours (without medication) or until they are on appropriate medication. Also make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date, which can cut down on incidences of pertussis, chicken pox and — especially for those at a residential camp — meningitis. Most camps require pre-camp physicals along with a vaccination history.
Camp policy. You should also familiarize yourself with the policies of the camp concerning illness and injury. What happens if a child has an illness/fever? For day camp, are parents expected to keep a sick child home? For overnight camp, is a child quarantined to avoid the entire bunk contracting an illness? How are other communicable diseases handled (e.g., lice)? You should also ask about protocols for concussion and water safety, along with training/certifications of the staff . You should know the medications dispensed and by whom. Are children with allergies or asthma permitted to carry an EpiPen or inhaler? Who is trained in how to use these medications? How many EpiPens are onsite? For residential campers, what is the protocol for X-rays or physician services?
Hygiene. Hygiene is an aspect of residential camp life that can be challenging, since you are not able to supervise your child. You should be confident that your child will cooperate during shower times (i.e., using soap and shampoo!) and change clothes daily. You should find out how often laundry is done at the residential camp and pack twice as many socks and underwear as there are days in between scheduled laundry. Day campers should also pack a change of clothes for unexpected events.
Sun protection. Children should wear sunscreen if spending time outside, and should have a water bottle to ensure they are staying hydrated. You should also know what the camp’s policy is regarding inclement weather. For an outdoor camp, will children remain outside in the rain? Where do children go in a thunderstorm? If the weather is very hot, is there a plan for additional rest or water?
Diet. Another way that children can stay healthy is with a well-balanced diet. Are parents expected to provide food for a day camp? Are there nutritional standards for each meal at a residential camp? Do you trust your child to make good nutritional choices? Are there counselors who ensure that children are eating reasonably well? Would you be allowed to send care packages containing food?
Sleep. Sleep is a vital aspect to staying healthy. Children in day camp must get to bed at a reasonable hour in order to be awake and able to participate in activities the next day. If you are interested in overnight camp, be sure to ask: What time do campers have “lights out”? Who supervises during that time? What is the wake-up time? Are there rest periods during the day? For academic camps, does the homework load allow for restful nights?
Safety. Your child’s well-being is a major concern. In order to help ensure his safety, you should ask about the ratio of children to counselors, inquire about the training and certifi cation of staff , and inform camp directors about any health issues including bedwetting, sleep walking, ADHD and aggression. If your child is involved in water sports, she should be properly instructed and/or supervised, and, if she will be in wooded areas she should also be informed about local wildlife and how to avoid those animals. All campers should be comfortable in public places and know how to identify and use resources should they become separated from counselors in non-camp surroundings. Finally, children should be taught about wearing appropriate protective gear and shoes when playing sports to minimize the risk of injury.
Camp can allow children to learn and thrive in a variety of environments. The challenge for parents is to find the right fit for their child.
Allison L. Grady, RN, a specialty student at Yale School of Nursing in New Haven, CT, will graduate in May 2011 with a master’s of science, nursing, and plans to work as a PNP.