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Rx for a Healthy Camp Experience

When the first summer campers set up tents in the woods 150 years ago, their counselors weren’t worried about peanut allergies or attention deficit disorder.

Camp was, and still is, about reconnecting with nature, building life skills, trying new things and making new friends. Adapting to 21st -century health sensibilities, today’s camps strive to be accessible and safe for as many kids as possible. But camp directors say they can’t do it alone.

Parents as Partners

Questions to Ask Camps

Here are questions parents can ask camp directors about health and safety.

How will my child’s nutritional intake be monitored and by whom?  Are campers required to eat certain foods?  What action does the camp take if there is a concern about nutrition for my child?

Describe the camp’s emergency response plans for severe weather, a lost camper and a major injury.

What can you tell me about your staff’s experience and training in preventing potentially unsafe situations? 

Describe your camp’s risk management program. What kind of injuries and illnesses tend to occur?  What have you done to decrease the potential for injury and illness? What is the

Describe your camp’s risk management program. What kind of injuries and illnesses tend to occur?  What have you done to decrease the potential for injury and illness? What is the injury-illness rate for campers?

What disease control practices are in place?

How do you coach staff to distinguish between normal kid-to-kid conflict and bullying? What do staff do when bullying is suspected?

Ask for the name and phone number of someone at camp who can be called should questions or concerns arise.

“Camp directors and nurses need to partner with parents,” says Barbara Dohner, RN, co-director and former camp nurse at Camp Oneka in the Pocono Mountains. “Two-way communication is key. We invite parents to contact us anytime with concerns or questions.”

Jeremy Weiser, director of Camp JCC in Wilmington, DE, says, “Parents should tell the camp director about any medical or emotional behavior that could affect the child’s day-to-day experience at camp. This is especially important when it comes to big life changes, such as divorce, death, family relocation or changes in medications.”

Laura Kress, RN, a camp nurse at URJ Camp Harlam in the Poconos, says, “The more information camps have, the better prepared they will be to care for your child,” she says.

Full Disclosure

“Parents can be reluctant to share sensitive information because they worry about what others will think, but this is a disservice to the child,” says Kress. “The camp staff has likely encountered those same issues before, so they can put parents’ minds at ease.”

Dohner adds, “It’s helpful to tell directors about emotional issues like extreme shyness or anger management. These can have a real impact on a child’s ability to succeed in a camp environment.”Children taking medication should continue their regimen unless a doctor advises otherwise. “Parents should not independently decide to give their child a ‘medication vacation,’” says Weiser.

Communicate Concerns

Linda Ebner Erceg, RN, executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses, recommends that parents discuss the camp’s ability to handle potentially life-threating situations. “When children have issues such as severe allergies, parents and camp directors must work together to assess a child’s capacity for self-
management, as well as the camp’s ability to respond should the unforeseen occur,” she says.

“Be sure to provide emergency contact information, particularly if you will be on vacation while the child is at camp,” adds Kress.
“Camps want children to be successful and they want their staff to effectively interact with campers. This is only possible when all parties have adequate information about one another and each respects the boundaries of that information,” says Erceg.

Ellen Warren is a program associate with the American Camp Association’s Keystone Section, serving Pennsylvania and Delaware families and camps. Learn more at www.acakeystone.org

 How You Can Help

Here are ideas from the American Camp Association to improve your child’s chance for a healthy camp experience.

• When children show signs of illness, keep them home to reduce the spread of illness at camp.

• Teach your child to sneeze in his sleeve and to wash his hands often

• To prevent a toe or ankle injury, stress to your child the importance of wearing closed-toed shoes for activities such as sports and hiking. This will help avoid slips, trips, and falls.

• Send enough clothes so your child can wear layers. Mornings can be chilly and by afternoon it can be hot.

• Fatigue plays a part in injuries. If children are going to day camp,
ensure they get enough rest at night. If children are going to resident camp, explain that camp is not like a sleepover — don’t try to stay up all night!

• Make sure your child has sunscreen and knows how to use it.

• Give your child a reusable water bottle. Explain that staying hydrated is very important in the summer.

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