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Hot Topics at Summer Camp

If s’mores, swimming, and songs by the campfire have sparked an interest in your child, then you might be looking for a suitable camp for your child to attend this summer. Parents all want their children to grow, learn, and enjoy themselves in a positive atmosphere, which leads to probing questions regarding camp safety, health, and communication policies.

With so much information provided to parents regarding these topics, one may feel a bit overwhelmed. To make the camp experience an enjoyable one for your child and easier for you, we compiled a list of some of the most common topics that concern our parents and found the information needed to help you be prepared for summer camp.

Benefits of camp
Regardless of the type of camp a child attends, all camps have one common goal in mind: to encourage growth within children. Children who attend camp develop important life skills including leadership, independence, and compromising.

Samuel Del Favero, owner of Camp Birchwood, says, “The benefits of camp are infinite–everyone gets something out of camp that is a little different and unique to their experience. The socioemotional growth, here at Birchwood, is something every camper experiences growth in. Our program and culture is focused on this aspect of learning as it is directly translated to the classroom, household, or friendships outside of camp.”

Many camps offer a positive learning environment that teaches them they can do what they set their minds to, that fears can be conquered, and that new friendships and bonds can form in an environment of diversity. Camp builds children physically and psychologically.

Parents often report that after a child returns home from camp, there is a newfound maturity and self-confidence within the child. Kids are willing to take on more challenges and get involved in activities they once wouldn’t even consider trying. Del Favero explains, “Parents notice a new confidence or an independence they haven’t seen when campers come home. Our curriculum focuses on choice, so it’s not surprising when parents email us or call in after a session and let us know how much their child is now doing on their own. The longer you’re at camp, the more you’ll get out of it; however, our two week, introductory camp, can be a very deep and meaningful experience for someone of any age.”

Are they ready?
“We always say moms know best, but when a mother calls camp to ask if their daughter is ready, I ask them two questions: 1. How social are they? 2. Have they slept away from home? And maybe a third if they haven’t slept away from home: 3. How do they deal with transition? Oftentimes, the parents aren’t ready for their child, so we talk about things to help the parents as well! To prepare campers for camp, start by having them make more decisions at home, sleep away from home, and actually prepare for camp with your child by purchasing the gear, reading the Parent Handbook together, etc. Also, call the camp office. So many times parents call with one question and we end up having an hour-long conversation about camp and they feel relieved,” says Del Favero.

A child’s personality plays a crucial role in determining whether or not a child will be ready for sleepaway camp. Attending camp requires a sense of maturity in a child. If they are not taking baths by themselves or getting themselves dressed for the day without assistance from a
parent or guardian, they may not be ready for overnight camp. Having sleepovers with friends will help parents determine whether or not their child will be ready for a sleepaway camp, too. If a child is calling in the middle of the night, wanting to come home, it might be best for the child to hold off for another year before attending camp.

However, if a child thrives in new situations and likes to make new friends, the transition to a sleepaway camp will be an easy one. And, a sibling tagging along for the camping experience can be very beneficial for the young campers by having someone there to show them the ropes.

Packing for camp
There are various factors to take into consideration when packing for camp: the type of camp, your child’s age, and the length of stay. Packing in general can lead to stress, and sometimes parents aren’t sure where to start. What does a child need? What are they not allowed to bring? Are there any items that a camper will need to pack extra? All of these are common questions running through parents’ minds as they begin packing. Most camps offer a packing list to help jumpstart the process of what to bring and what to leave behind. Just remember the golden rule–be sure to label everything you send to camp.

Getting used to the dark
While a flashlight seems like a common must-have item for camp, there are times when a flashlight’s use is underrated. When camp activities are over and it’s time for lights out, children may find it hard to settle down due to the darkness and lack of streetlights. Talk with your child about sounds that go bump in the night and discover ways to help them relax and get a good night’s rest while using their flashlight. And, don’t forget the batteries.

General packing items
Besides the no-fail flashlight, other important items to add to the packing list include: comfortable clothing, swimwear, rain gear, sturdy footwear, toiletries, pen, paper, and stamped envelopes. It’s also a good idea to bring disinfecting wipes. Avoid bringing any expensive items that can be lost or broken, including cell phones and money.

Health issues at camp
Emergency and medical information
The American Camp Association encourages campers to bring along emergency contact information and any information about your child’s medications, including whether or not a camper will need Epi-pens, inhalers, or other devices. A parent must also talk to the camp directors about any medical issues the child may have such as allergies. Some camps will not administer certain medications, so it is important for a parent to discuss the policies long before signing up for a camp. Learning the medical procedures in case of an accident or illness is critical for parents prior to camp registration.

Heat, sunburn, and insects
Make sure your camper brings along sunscreen and insect repellent. Spray sunscreen is recommended because some children may object to other campers touching them to apply the sunscreen. Depending on the area and conditions of the camping experience, precautions may be given to avoid mosquito bites, bed bugs, and other insects native to an area.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines extreme heat as, “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for a location at that time of year. Children, especially children who are physically active, are at a higher risk for heat related-illnesses.” Outdoor camps are required to have trained personnel who can treat heat exhaustion or heat stroke. All campers and staff are taught conditions of excessive heat exposure, drinking adequate fluids, and how and when to seek help if necessary.

Communication at camp
This generation of children is the most connected. Kids are constantly plugged in, whether it be through video games, cell phones, iPads, televisions, or computers. They are staying in the know with what’s happening, when it happens.

The thought of not allowing cell phones and electronic devices at camp seems downright archaic to some. However, unplugging from the electronic world is the beauty of camp–it restores tradition. Usually once a child is involved at camp, technology isn’t something they’re worried about. Parents tend to be the ones looking for a way to keep tabs on their child.

Many children have had cell phones since grade school to allow them to remain in contact with their parents at all times. At camp, the cell phones stay at home in order to encourage an old form of engagement that requires social interaction without the screen. But, how are parents supposed to get in touch with their children? Often, parents and their children can write back and forth while at camp. However, using phones or emails can vary from camp to camp. Before choosing a camp, be sure to find out how you will be able to stay in contact with your child and how often you may contact them.

Homesickness is a normal feeling that children experience. According to the American Camp Association, “In a recent study, nearly 96 percent of all boys and girls who were spending two weeks or more at overnight camp reported some homesickness on at least one day.” Since homesickness is a common occurrence at camp, staff members are fully prepared to help manage the situation by keeping the homesick camper busy, helping them write letters home, and by talking with a staff member.

To help avoid homesickness, parents can allow their children to attend sleepovers with friends just to test the waters and see how they do. The better the success at sleepovers, the better the child will be at camp. Many times parents will tell their child to try out camp for a certain number of days, and if they still miss home, they can return home. Setting up these escape routes for a child won’t encourage them to really experience camp. They will be too focused on returning home instead of enjoying their surroundings and what the camp has to offer.

Camp security
Keeping a child safe and healthy is top priority at all camps. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the incidence of violent crimes committed against and by children and youth continues to rise in America. Due to this alarming rate, the American Camp Association (ACA) encourages camps to continuously review and tighten security measures to ensure that campers remain safe at all times. ACA suggests that each camp research its individual needs and liabilities by designing a protocol for handling visitors to the camp, assessing the need for fencing, lights, and telephones for emergency calls, assessing the quality of security and control present in the facility, and to coordinate with local support systems.

By securing the area around the camp and making personnel easily available, campers can experience camp in full-force, knowing they are going to be safe throughout the day and night.

“Misbehaving or socially unacceptable behavior at Camp Birchwood is rare; however, there are several levels of behavioral management strategies which are dependent on the behavior.

The first way is proactive; we have a culture and structure to camp that sets our new campers up for success. The older campers role model for younger campers, and cabin counselors are creating positive, inclusive cultures with kindness and compassion. Every morning we meet with the counselors to discuss in-camp behavior and issues that arise.

First, we allow natural social consequences to play out if the behavior isn’t emotionally or physically harmful to others. The next intervention would be a counselor having a discussion and coming up with a plan to behave differently or implement supportive measures based on positive reinforcement–not a consequence-based system. We may encourage group intervention as well. The key is that the intervention is related to the behavior, which is not always a simple concept to grasp. If none of this is effective, I would check in with the parents and discuss with the camper. The last measure is to send a camper home, which doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t come back to camp, as everyone is constantly learning; a year of development may be helpful to have a great camp experience next summer. We would be in direct contact with parents and there is a process involved with this,” says Del Favero.

Special needs camps
Camps for children with special needs are growing everyday. The mission of these camps is to offer the chance for as many children as possible, regardless of their abilities, to have the chance to have fun, to make new friends, to be accepted for who they are, and to learn new challenges. For parents who are not aware of what camps are out there now, a little research can make a lifetime difference for your child. Camps for children with special needs provide many of the same opportunities and benefits of traditional camps such as a few we have researched below.

Louisiana Lions Camp offers a free outdoor summer camp for campers living with respiratory disorders, special needs, juvenile diabetes, and childhood cancer. Camp Pelican provides a week-long overnight camp for children with pulmonary disorders, severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, tracheostomy, and ventilator assisted children.

Camp Bon Coeur provides camping to children who have been born with congenital heart defects. Camp Bon Coeur offers a safe and fun environment for “cardiac campers” to participate in various activities under the supervision of a nursing staff.

Camp Dream Street in Mississippi offers a five day, four night camping program for children with physical disabilities. Each camp has their own application process, depending on the disability, in order to ensure the camp is able to meet the camper’s needs. Many have financial aid available, and some camps are free. With highly trained staff, these happy campers are able to create the lifetime memories they so richly deserve.

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