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
“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.
“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.
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