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Mother Nature is having a hard time making up her mind about the seasons this year, but even with all this snow, it’s actually the right time to start thinking ahead to summer camp!
Each spring, my office and my email inbox are flooded with parents who have one concern on their minds: how to find the best summer camp for their child with complex challenges, such as ADHD and learning differences.
The summer months are a critical time for social, emotional, behavioral and physical growth. It’s easy for children to lose the skills they acquired during the school year throughout the long stretch of summer break, so placing your child in an environment that reinforces and builds on these skills is extremely important.
At The Quaker School at Horsham, we host a quality summer camp for children enrolled in our school, but we know that many of our readers don’t live nearby. So how do you make this weighty decision as a parent?
Here are five ways that parents of children with complex challenges can find a safe, stimulating and nurturing summer camp experience:
#1: Start with the why.
Before you begin your search, ask yourself some important questions about what you’re looking for in this year’s camp experience.
What does your child need most: social skills development, academic enrichment, executive functioning skills development? Do you want your child to cultivate new, or existing, friendships? Do you want your child to be able to escape for a time and just enjoy the summer?
As you think about these questions, clarify your priorities for the summer and choose the top three things you want for your child’s camp experience. Write those down to refer to as you search.
#2: Identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
As you begin to assess camps, compare their offerings with your child’s needs. One helpful exercise is to grab a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and write your child’s strengths, talents, hobbies, and interests on one side. On the other side, list their needs and weaknesses.
Perhaps your child has a keen interest in trees but struggles socially. In this case, for example, a nature camp with a strong social skills program may be the best choice.
#3: Ask your network.
One of the most helpful actions you can take is to talk to your child’s classmates and their parents to find out which camps they recommend. This group is likely a wealth of knowledge, but the only way you will learn is if you ask!
It was through some of our parents at TQS that I was able to learn about Camp Pegasus, in Haverford, Pa., and Summit Camp in Honesdale, Pa. I also encourage you to ask for recommendations from teachers, school staff or an active online community.
#4: Talk to the camp directors.
Once you narrow down your search, speaking with the camp directors will help you make an informed decision about whether each camp is a good fit for your child.
Ahead of your meeting, write out any questions you have and email them to the director so they can be thoroughly addressed. Questions may include:
- What disabilities do they accommodate?
- Can they describe other children they have worked with who are like your child?
- How will they handle preparing your child for the transition and the new experience?
If you are considering a camp for typical children, then your conversation with the camp director is paramount to your experience. It’s extremely important to be honest about your child’s skills and needs, so the camp can make an informed decision about their placement.
Our daughter Pearl, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, ADHD and learning disabilities, attends a wonderful summer camp for typical children that she adores. For extra support, we pay to have a 1:1 assistant for her.
We have witnessed tremendous personal, physical and communication growth because of the inclusive attitude of the camp director, John, and the exceptional staff. Inclination and attitude are very telling during your conversations with camp directors, so listen carefully to what is being said and to what is not being said.
#5: Schedule visits.
Although this may involve a lot of time on the road, I highly recommend that you go and see the campsites for yourself. Of course, you don’t need to visit all potential candidates; follow the first four steps and then visit any camps in the final running. Touring may also reduce your child’s anxiety about what to expect when summer comes.
The right camp experience brings joy that lasts a lifetime. Find the best fit for your child, and you will get to see them blossom every summer!
How have you discovered a positive summer experience for your child? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.