Camp is a great way for kids to improve their social skills, exercise, and explore new things.
If you are considering sleep away camp, but aren't sure if it's the right thing to do, click here for a psychologist's perspective on camps away from home.
Whether you decide on day camp or sleep away fun, here are some tips to get ready:
Day to Day
Lather up your child with a full shot-glass worth of sunscreen every morning. Then send them to camp with a sunscreen stick, so they can reapply it as needed throughout the day (especially before and after water activities, and at lunch time). Get new tubes of sunscreen every year, and pay attention to expiration dates. Sunscreen should be thrown out 1 year after it is opened. Any sunscreen you use should be SPF 30 to 50. For more information on sunscreen choices, click here. A hat and clothing are also good ways to protect your child from harmful rays.
If your child will be in an area with mosquitos or ticks, don't forget the insect repellant. These only need to be applied once a day. If there are deer ticks in the area, please do a tick-check daily to make sure none are taking a ride, especially in the hairline. Ticks usually have to be attached to the skin and feeding for 24-48 hours before they transmit diseases like Lyme Disease, so a daily tick check can really prevent your child from getting sick. If you do find a tick, pull it out completely with tweezers, or follow the tips at HealthyChildren. Do not apply vaseline and do not burn the tick, as this can cause the tick to vomit into the host and transmit disease. For more information on insect repellants in kids, click here (Tara Haelle talks about the latest science and studies on types of repellents) and here (Dr. Iannelli discusses what to buy).
If your child is going to a day camp, don't forget ice water and healthy snacks and lunch, for maximum energy and hydration. At sleep-away camp, food in the cabins can attract bugs, so it's better to leave it at home.
Teach your child to swim before they go to a camp with a pool or lake. Empower them to be protective of their body, and not to allow unwanted touches. For more help with that, see here and here. Finally, remind them to wear helmets for certain sports (rock climbing, skateboarding, bicycling, and horseback riding are popular camp activities).
Help From Your Pediatrician
Most camps require health forms to be completed by your primary care physician before you can attend camp. If you have had an annual physical office visit less than a year from the form due date, most offices will complete your forms without a visit. Some camps require the forms to be completed with a doctor's visit after April, in which case you should make an appointment as soon as possible. Either way, you will need to contact your PMD office well in advance of when you need the forms completed. Some camps are now also requiring immunization records. If you have an up to date yellow immunization card you can give the camp a copy. If you don't have one, get a copy from your pediatrician (it's a good idea to have these at all times anyways).
If your child will need to take any medications at camp, even over the counter ones, get the medication forms from camp and send them to your prescribing physician at least a couple of weeks before they need to be submitted. You should also speak to your doctor about prescribing extras for camp, especially inhalers and spacers. If your child has asthma, or wheezes, send a copy of their Asthma Action Plan to the camp.
Allergies & Special Diets
If your child has real allergies or medical diets (like with celiac disease), inform the camp ahead of time, and call to make sure they can accommodate your child safely. Allergy warning bracelets can help avoid accidental ingestion at camp, by reminding staff before they share food or special camp treats. If your child has a possibly anaphylactic (life threatening) allergy to insects, food, or anything, be sure to send an Epi-Pen or Epi-Pen Jr set (2 pens in case of anaphylaxis, not just 1) to the camp. You should also have an allergy plan, so the camp (and you) knows when to use the pen. You may need extra forms to be filled out, to be able to have these used at camp, and an extra prescription, so call your primary care or allergy doctors' office at least a month before camp starts to have this done. Teaching your child the symptoms to look for, and how to use the epinephrine is also important.
You can read more about creating a healthy camp experience at the AAP's parent site, but most importantly, have a fun summer!