According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the summer camp experience “has proven to have a lasting effect on psychological development, including significant effects on self esteem, peer relationships, independence, leadership, values and willingness to try new things.”
With that, children generally like to participate in group activities and share among themselves while at summer camp; therefore, it is not uncommon for ‘little’ epidemics of minor illness to sweep through camps. These may include conjunctivitis (pink eye), strep throat, stomach viruses, etc. While some of this is inevitable, the occurrences can be lessened in two ways. The first is if your child is obviously ill, do not send him to camp. You will only help spread his illness to the other campers. The second; it is the camp’s responsibility to send home any child that is sick in order to limit the spread of the illness.
What other health issues should you prepare for when sending your child to summer camp? Camps offer a wide range of activities and almost all programs have some level of physical exercise. Combine this with the general enthusiasm of children and there are bound to be bruises, minor cuts, falls, and occasionally more serious injuries such as broken bones. The best medicine here is prevention: camps that stress proper supervision of play time and physical activities have lower rates of injury.
If you are considering what camp may be best for your child, here are a few items to think about. Ensure the camp activities are appropriately matched to your child’s medical needs. For many children, this may be as simple as having a camp physical performed with your primary care provider to validate their good health. For those children with ongoing medical concerns such as asthma, anaphylactic allergies, seizures or diabetes, for example, the routine activities of the camp should not place the child as risk for exacerbating any of these conditions.
Next, if the camp is a sleep-away camp, it should be able to provide basic medical care for a child with ongoing medical needs. Staff should be trained in basic medical first aid and CPR, and should be qualified to store and administer any medications that your child will need away from home. If your child attends a day camp, staff should have basic first aid training, CPR and, depending on your child’s needs, be able to administer necessary medications. Whatever the type of camp, it is very important that the camp staff is aware of your child’s medical needs so they can be proactive in anticipating those needs.
Finally, parents must ensure the camp meets the needs of their child’s interest and skills, so it is important to match the interests of the child to the camp offerings. Look at the mission and goals of the camp, speak with the camp directors, and discuss the possibilities with your child in order to find the best placement.
Charles A. Welborn, MD, MPH, FAAP, FACEP, Medical Director, After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care