For most kids, swimming and s’mores are all they need to have fun at summer camp. Traveling away from home, however, takes much more planning and preparation on a parent’s part to ensure a safe and fun experience for the child. Preparing a fuss-free summer camp experience is a little easier with these steps.
Choose the best camp for your child
When choosing a camp, consider your child’s whole experience. For example, if your child hates swimming, do not choose a beach camp. If your child enjoys sports, consider sending her to an athletic camp.
Camping with children who have similar health conditions may also help your child feel at ease with her peers. At specialized camps, daily routines of medicines and treatments are commonplace – not a source of differentiation or embarrassment.
Separately, if your child has a health condition such as diabetes or asthma, you may consider a camp that frequently hosts children with these conditions. You’ll have extra peace of mind when your child is in the hands of experienced camp staffers and knowledgeable health personnel.
Schedule appointments in advance
Once you’ve chosen a camp, check its medical requirements in advance. Many camps require a physical exam before enrollment. This doctor’s visit is a great time to ensure your child is up-to-date with vaccines, prescriptions, dietary restrictions and allergies.
Note schools often require physicals, and most insurance policies only cover one annual exam per child. Think strategically about medical check-ups. In addition to camp medical requirements, know what your child’s school needs for next year’s enrollment so you won’t have to revisit the doctor.
Most outdoor camp activities are between peak sun hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.). Most likely, the camp staff will remind your child to reapply sunscreen several times a day. To be safe, check with your child’s camp on their sun safety protocol and ask if they need a doctor’s note to apply sunscreen.
No matter what the camp’s sun safety program is, you can protect your child by packing smart. Be sure to grab an easy-to-apply sunscreen your child is willing to wear on her own. SPF 30 works for the majority of kids if they reapply throughout the day. As a general rule, use one ounce of sunscreen (about a palm full) per application. For example, MD Moms’ Baby Silk Babysafe Sunscreen Towelettes or Singles are easy-to-pack physical sunscreens with SPF 30+. Sprays are also easy for kids to apply and cover a large area in a short amount of time. Along with sunscreen, be sure to pack sunglasses that filter out UVA/UVB rays, a wide-brimmed hat, lightweight clothing and SPF-rated swimwear for days by the water.
Prepare for summer separation
In addition to filling out forms and packing duffel bags, put emotional health preparation on your to-do list. In the weeks leading up to camp, discuss your future camper’s fun upcoming activities and new friendships. These conversations will help your child mentally prepare for camp and make her feel more confident during her time away.
Manage home sickness
No matter how ready children are for camp, most will miss home at some point. First-time campers benefit from short-term camp sessions close to home. Psychologically, your child will profit from knowing you’re nearby.
Once your camper matures and stays away longer, consider packing pre-addressed and stamped postcards to encourage writing home. When you write your own letters, make sure they are encouraging – without a hint of sadness. Instead of saying “I miss you so much, and I’m sad you are gone,” write “I can’t wait to hear about your adventures and how much you are enjoying camp.”
Throughout your child’s experience, remember some level of homesickness is natural and healthy. Becoming independent is one of the core benefits of attending camp, and as your child learns to manage her emotions, she will become more mature and confident.
Food allergies? No problem
Before camp begins, discuss your child’s food allergies with the director and ask how the camp accommodates special diets. Make sure to learn how the kitchen avoids cross-contamination of allergy-provoking foods and inquire about action plans if a camper has an allergic reaction. You may also ask if campers may bring their own food in the event dietary needs are beyond the scope of the camp kitchen. Also make sure you bring the necessary medications to camp in the event of accidental ingestion, and ensure they are readily available if anaphylaxis occurs.
Maintain healthy eating
Most camps control food consumption fairly well and provide pre-set meals daily. Cooking healthy on a large scale, however, is not easy. If possible, review the camp’s menu before the session begins. Also, it never hurts to ask if you’re allowed to send healthy snacks, like dried fruits, nuts and easy-to-eat raw vegetables.
Many camps offer snacks for purchase. To assist your child’s healthy decision-making, consider limiting her camp store allowance and having the camp distribute the spending money over the course of the summer.
As you prepare your child to stay safe and healthy throughout the summer, remember camp is a chance for you both to grow! Camp allows you, as parents, to let go of your child and encourage her to make independent decisions.
About Dr. JJ Levenstein
Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics with a private pediatric practice in Encino, Calif. She serves on the clinical staff of two hospitals and has been voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2004 through 2012. Drawing on her experience as a pediatrician and mother, Dr. Levenstein serves as president and co-founder of MD Moms, maker of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms.