Is Your Child Ready for Summer Camp…and is Summer Camp Ready for Your Child?

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Every spring, I find myself joining countless other Omaha parents in the search for some sort of organized summer activity(ies) for my children that will be fun, interesting, and hopefully even…dare I say it (lest my children actually read my blog)….educational. Of course in my case, this wasn’t such a problem in years past – if only because my husband and I chose to overcome the “what full-time opportunities are there for kids in the summertime” dilemma by simply building ourselves a childcare center and making sure it offered a high-quality full-time summer camp. While I am well aware that this isn’t the most common solution, what is exceedingly common is for kids – on the order of 11 million of them – to attend summer camps catering to a huge range of ages and activities, and a vast array of interests.

Given that summer is rapidly approaching, I’m willing to bet that a majority of you are currently in search of a summer camp and understandably focusing your search on such criteria as the fun factor, logistical considerations such as hours of operation and transportation requirements, and cost. Based on my review of the recently released policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled Creating Health Camp Environments, however, I am reminded that we should all, as responsible parents, be looking past the fun and games and asking some additional, very important health- and safety-related considerations before sending our kids off to camp this summer. They include:

Don’t get overly ambitious. Be sure to take into account your child’s interests and skill level, not to mention his/her emotional readiness. This means making sure your child is not only enthused about the camp you’ve chosen, but will realistically be able to meet the associated physical and emotional expectations. 

Schedule an annual checkup. This is the perfect time to schedule a complete annual physical exam and overall health review. While you’re there, remember to discuss with your child’s doctor any specific physical requirements of the camp that may require medical consideration and/or clearance, as well as any plans for prescriptions and/or medication administration that will be needed while your child is at camp. 

Make sure your children’s immunizations are up-to-date. Not only do vaccines help limit the spread of vaccine-preventable infections in the camp environment (not to mention in general), but it’s also worth noting that children attending camps in other states (or even other countries) may have additional immunization requirements. 

Recognize that separation anxiety is not just for the very young. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise calm, cool and collected kids experience significant pangs of homesickness – especially if they’re heading off to camp for the first time. Minimize the likelihood by first making plans that aren’t overly ambitious (no sleepaway camp for kids who’ve never spent a night away from home before, for example), and also making sure to discuss with, prepare, and involve your child.

In addition to considering whether your child is ready for camp, you’ll also want to make sure the camp is ready for your child. Make sure the camp you are considering:

  • Is adequately staffed with appropriately trained staff. Training should not only be tailored for the types of activities offered (horse back riding or tennis, for example), but also in more general skills such as basic first aid and CPR.
  • Has “what if?” policies in place in the form of written health and safety policies and protocols. This helps insure that the camp is adequately prepared to handle and treat common illnesses and injuries
  • Insures good basic hygiene – both in the form of routine hand-washing (something that proved to be exceedingly important during the recent H1N1 flu season), but also in food preparation and service, etc.
  • Is ready, willing and adequately prepared to correctly and reliably document and administer any medications your child may need while at camp.

And finally – keep in mind that if you choose wisely, summer camp can provide your child with the perfect opportunity for building self-esteem and a sense of independence, making new friends, and spending lots of time being physically active and enjoying the great outdoors.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska