Summer is fast approaching, which means camp season is too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, summer camps--either day camps or overnight--"can have a positive effect on (a child's) psychological development, self-esteem, and independence."
Some guidelines to use when choosing a camp
• Find one that's a good fit. Think about your child's interests and health, and make sure that your child will be able to participate and function well in the camps you are considering.
• See what your child wants. Ask your child what they expect and want from a camp. Let them be part of the decision process.
• Take your child along. If a camp is giving an information session, bring your child with you.
• Is there a DVD? Ask the camps you are considering for their DVDs--many have this as part of their marketing strategy--and then watch it with your child.
• Staff medical training. Ask questions about medical policies. Is the staff trained in basic medical care? Are they trained in CPR? If your child has a specific medical condition such as asthma or diabetes, ask if all the staff knows how to administer the specific medicines that your child needs, and if they know how to handle emergency medical conditions that can arise.
• Medical transport, and to where? Ask where and how a child would be transported if more than basic first aid is needed.
• No conversations in private. Ask whether the camp has a policy about counselors being alone with campers. My son is going to an overnight camp for the first time, and the camp he is going to has a policy that no counselor can be alone in a cabin or building with a single camper. If the counselor needs to speak 1-on-1 with a child, their conversation needs to be done out in the open--for example, over by a tree, but visible. I like this policy because I can tell my son that he should expect that he will never be alone with a counselor and, if a counselor suggests it, my son should seek help and make sure he has a buddy along.
• The food. Ask about nutrition and the food provided, especially if your child has any dietary restrictions.
• Exercise. Ask about physical activity. Any camp should provide a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
• On hot days. Find out the camp's policy about activity and exercise during extremely hot days, when it's 95° F and above. Make sure that all staff know the signs of dehydration, can recognize heat stroke and sun stroke, and understand, for instance, that they must literally watch as the children swallow their scheduled drinks--to make sure that each child has actually swallowing the necessary amount of water. (See a previous blog of mine, Keeping Them Cool in the Heat for details, and give a printed copy of it to the camp director if anyone in charge seems hazy about this crucial subject.)
• Expect anxiety--your own and your child's.
• Be positive and excited for your child as the time approaches.
• Discuss homesickness and assure your child that it's normal and happens to most children.
• If your child hasn't been away from home much, let them "practice" ahead of time by sleeping over at the homes of friends or relatives.
• If your camp has a parent-child weekend in the spring, go if you are able. This is a great way for your child to experience the camp while you are with him or her--and to proudly show you all around.
• Your visit will also help to eliminate some of your child's fear of the unknown, because now he or she will be able to have a mental picture of the camp and being there.
• Make sure your child has had a physical examination by his or her pediatrician within a year of the camp's start day. Almost all camps will require a doctor's form and so pediatricians' offices get slammed with requests for camp physicals in late spring and early summer. So beat the rush and make your appointment early. If your child has had an exam recently, deliver or fax the camp's form to the doctor's office in good time. Most doctors' offices take several days to complete these forms, so don't expect to walk in and have it filled out instantly.
• On a piece of paper, write down the dates that all your kids got their tetanus shots, and then keep it in your wallet or purse where you can find it. Camps often want to know those dates, so this will save you a call to the doctor's office. Tetanus shots are good for 10 years. However, if a child experiences a bad cut, the tetanus shot needs to be repeated if it has been more than 5 years since the last one.
• Get the recommended supply list from the camp, and start gathering and packing early the stuff that will be needed.
• Find out the camp policies for communicating with your child while he or she is there; share this information with your child.
• Plan and discuss your drop-off and pickup plans so there will be few if any surprises for your child.
Then enjoy seeing your child begin what will likely be an adventure of a lifetime.