Summer camp brings back so many fond memories. The days of my youth were filled with swimming on hot, lazy days, playing softball with new found fellow camp friends, and blazing trails on adventures to fun destinations. To this day the smell of bug spray and sunscreen takes me back to some of the best experiences of my childhood.
Today, as a parent myself, I know that sometimes it takes a little help to create great memories. Our campers are focused on having fun and making friends. As parents, we want to do everything possible to make sure that they are enjoying their time at camp. After all, the very best feeling is having your happy camper bounce through the door excited to tell you about that day's adventure.
With a little preparation ahead of time, you can make sure that your camper not only survives but thrives at summer camp! Here are some tips:
• Choose the right camp. When selecting a camp, consider the activity level, interest level, length of the camp and their ability to handle special accommodations. Is a park district camp best? Are inclusion services an option? Is a special needs camp appropriate? Do your research upfront to make sure that the camp can provide the best environment for your child's needs.
• Review the camp schedule and expectations. Be sure to prepare both yourself and your camper for each day's activities by reviewing the schedule, behavior expectations, and both arrival and departure procedures together. Answering questions or concerns ahead of time can alleviate undue stress on both your parts.
• Communicate with staff. If there are special considerations or medications that camp staff should be aware of, be sure to inform staff as early as possible. Check into your camps preference for handling daily communications. If you have questions or concerns, ask staff how and when they are available to speak with you. This will assure that you are given the attention you deserve while making sure that campers, the staff's first priority, are being addressed during camp hours.
One method some parents have had success with is the use of a notebook for daily communications with staff. This allows parents to provide input on how the morning is going, any special considerations for that day, or any changes to the schedule. It also gives staff a direct line of communication to the parents to offer insight into how successful the day was or if there were any special concerns of which they need to be aware.
• Decide on a routine. One of the most difficult pieces of summer is the lack of routine. Establish a routine for camp days. Decide what your child will be responsible for and when. For instance, if your camp of choice requires a backpack for the day, pack it the night before. This will keep you on track and avoid last-minute "forgets" in the morning. Consider a dedicated camp bag that holds sunscreen and bug spray at all times. When your camper comes home, set up a routine that might include checking the bag for notes, hanging up wet swim suits and towels to dry, etc. An established routine can teach responsibility and keep the whole process running smoothly.
• Label everything. Be sure that everything you send to camp has your campers name in/on it. This will make it easier for staff to be able to return misplaced items.
• Leave valuables at home. Even with the closer staff to camper ratio available for special needs campers, staff is not responsible for lost or damaged belongings. Avoid potential disappointment for you or your camper when something goes missing by leaving valuables at home.
• Dress appropriately. Though it may vary depending on the type of camp, outdoor play and arts/crafts can make a mess. Play clothes that can get dirty are typically the best choice for camp attire. This allows campers to participate fully without having to worry about ruining good clothes.
• Keep lunch healthy. It can be easy to slide on nutrition at times, but a nutritious lunch and snack can actually help campers get through the day more easily. Don't forget the water. Staying hydrated is especially important during the hot summer months.
There is just one more thing to be prepared for and this may be the most important of all. Create a welcoming environment for your camper to come home to after a fun-filled, yet long day at camp. If they need time to switch gears and decompress, give them time to acclimate themselves to home. If your camper is more of the bubbly type that wants to tell you absolutely everything about their day, try to give them your undivided attention.
Remember, great summer camp experiences make for even greater memories. Here's to a terrific summer for everyone!
• Sherry Manschot is the marketing/public relations manager at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. She leads a parent network of special needs families at WDSRA. Manschot can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about WDSRA can be found at wdsra.com.