Summer Camp Fun: 10 Safety and Wellness Tips for Kids

There are more than 14,000 camps in the U.S., including specialty camps that focus on sports, technology, arts or basic back-to-nature outdoor skills. But even with all that variety, most parents would agree that their child’s health and safety are the top priorities.

Here are 10 safety and wellness tips to help ensure that your child’s summer camp experience is a positive one.

1. Research

Your homework begins long before the first day of camp, says Francisco A. Medina, M.D., chief medical director of Pediatric Services at Homestead Hospital.

“Research the camp thoroughly; ask questions; read reviews, and talk to other parents whose child has attended the camp,” Dr. Medina says. He also encourages parents to ask about the camp’s screening process for child sexual abuse prevention.

More than 2,400 camps in the U.S. are accredited by the American Camp Association – a sign that these camps are committed to a child’s overall well-being. Accredited camps follow over 300 health and safety guidelines, including germ prevention, sun protection, and sports and water safety practices. The camps are monitored to ensure that the facility is safe, proper safety gear is being used and staff members are trained and certified in their area of specialty at the camp.

2. Medical and Safety Services

According to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a good camp will require campers to have had a complete exam by a doctor during the past year and be up to date on all vaccinations. When completing the medical forms, supply camp leaders with your child’s detailed health history, including any significant illnesses, operations, injuries, allergies and current medical problems, advises Dr. Medina.

“This information is especially important if your child should need emergency medical care,” he says.
You also may want to ask:
• Are there first aid supplies on premises?
• Is there a nurse or physician on-site?
• Is there a place kids can go if they don’t feel well?
• What happens if my child is injured?

3. Combating Homesickness

Physical wellness isn’t the only concern when it comes to campers’ health. It’s also good to know how the camp handles homesickness. Eight out of 10 kids who go away to camp experience homesickness at least one day at camp, according to ACA statistics. The good news: Fewer than 10 percent of those cases are so serious that the child becomes anxious or depressed, stops eating or sleeping and is sent home. To help combat feelings of homesickness, experts suggest children go on sleepovers to practice being away from home.

4. Medication Plan

If your child takes medication daily, it’s important to partner with your pediatrician and the camp medical staff to create a medication plan. Parents should know who supervises medications and the rules regarding over-the-counter drugs. Most camps require medications to be stored and monitored by camp medical staff, which is a sound policy, Dr. Medina says.

5. Activity Schedule

Review the camp’s activity schedule, and be sure your child’s health allows participation. If your child will be involved in water or extreme sports, you’ll want to know about supervision, training and CPR certification of instructors.

6. Outdoor Protection 

Children should apply sunscreen to avoid sunburn and stay well hydrated to prevent heat exhaustion. Campers should know how to check nightly for ticks and how to identify poison ivy so they can steer clear of it. You’ll also want to be sure the camp can treat simple insect bites, stings and adverse reactions.

“If your child has a history of severe reactions to ant bites or bee stings, for example, a counselor should have your child’s EpiPen readily available,” Dr. Medina says.

7. Food Safety

Food allergies or anything you do not want your child to eat for health or religious reasons should be clearly communicated to your child and the camp staff.

8. Dress for the Elements

Your child should dress for comfort, safety and the climate. Most sleep-away camps provide a packing list advising campers to bring sensible items such as closed-toe shoes, brimmed hats, rain gear and flip-flops for the showers.

9. Staying Clean

“Remind children to wash their hands often, especially before eating,” Dr. Medina says. He also recommends that overnight campers shower regularly, take off wet bathing suits and change clothes to prevent skin infections.

10. Camp Communications

Most camps have a system for communicating with parents. Some camps provide weekly newsletters; others host family days or special times for parents to visit.  Here are a few communication trends spotted by the ACA based on the 2,400 camps accredited by the organization:

  • Social Marketing: 80 percent of camps use social media channels for marketing.
  • Electronic Devices: Nearly 75 percent of camps prohibit campers from using personal electronic devices.
  • Letters and postcards: About 85 percent of camps use handwritten letters and postcards as the communication channel between campers and parents.

Going to summer camp shouldn’t be a scary thing for you or your child. If you research the camp and feel confident with the facility’s safety and the staff’s credentials, experience and training, you can rest easier knowing your child is having an exciting and transformative experience.

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