After the past two years of uncertainty, kids need summer camp more than ever. It’s an opportunity to meet people and learn about everything from canoeing and woodworking to cooking and archery. Camp is good for kids’ mental health, too. “Camp helps kids build emotional resilience and independence because they get outside of their comfort zones to try new things,” says Todd Rothman, co-owner and co-director of Deerkill Day Camp in Suffern, New York. “It’s especially important now because kids have lost a year or more of social development and have spent a lot of time by themselves. Camp gives us a chance to be together and have fun without the pressures of school.”
Whether it’s day or sleepaway camp, here’s how to get your kid ready:
SCHEDULE A WELLNESS VISIT
Kids need checkups before starting summer camp, and camp health forms must be filled out by your pediatrician and turned in before camp starts. “Book an appointment right away, especially if your child is behind on immunizations,” says Mohammed Jawaad Hussain, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University. In many cases, doctor’s offices are experiencing a backlog and booking several weeks or months out. Some camps may also require COVID vaccines.
COMMUNICATE WITH THE CAMP
Talk to the camp nurse if your child has special medical needs and requires prescription medications. For example, ask who will administer them and where they’ll be stored. Also, discuss any transitions, such as a recent move, family illness, divorce or anything else that is going on in your child’s life, with the director or counselor. “It helps kids succeed at camp when we know what’s impacting them,” says Rothman.
PACK THE RIGHT SUN PROTECTION
Either chemical or physical sunscreens, such as zinc oxide, are fine, but picking a kind they’ll actually wear is the most important. Opt for a minimum of 30 SPF or higher, and teach your kid to reapply frequently. Sprays work well for the body and sticks for the face, says Rothman. Because it’s difficult to know how much you’re applying, the American Academy of Dermatology has some tips. With sprays, go back and forth until the skin has a sheen, then rub it in. With sticks, make four passes back and forth over an area. Sun-protective clothing and hats are other must-haves.
SEND BUG SPRAY
“Prevention is better than treatment,” says Hussain. Show kids how to apply it, and use DEET (no more than 30 percent) or picaridin. Oil of eucalyptus is okay, too, but don’t use it on kids younger than age 3. Also, keep repellents off little kids’ hands, which inevitably end up in their mouths, says Hussain.
In addition, do a daily tick check, and teach your child to look for them, especially in hiding places such as the scalp, around ears, the backs of knees and at waist bands. If they find one, tell them to ask a counselor to remove it right away and snap a photo, or call the camp nurse. If your kid gets an extra-itchy mosquito bite, dab on some calamine lotion or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, and call your pediatrician for a prescription cream if that doesn’t help.
TALK TO YOUR KID ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT
It helps to get your kid excited about their summer by watching camp videos, taking a camp tour and meeting counselors ahead of time. For younger kids, make a countdown calendar. Also, teach kids to talk to counselors if they’re upset or worried about anything, says Rothman. Say something like, “This counselor is like your teacher, so just like you can tell your teacher anything, you can tell your counselor anything.”
Your child may be nervous about going back to camp, even if he or she loved it before. “We saw some social regression with kids last year,” says Rothman. “We’re also learning what’s ‘normal’ again, like not wearing masks in some situations, and that can be scary to kids.” That’s totally understandable, so talk to your child about why and when it’s okay to remove a mask, such as when playing outdoors, and practice at home.
If you have your own anxiety about leaving your kids at camp, discuss your feelings with the director or counselor instead of fretting. “Kids pick up on everything. If your child senses you’re upset, they’ll feed off of that,” says Rothman. While it’s not unusual for there to be tears at drop off (yours or theirs), you want kids to have a positive experience, which means letting them spread their wings without imposing your own fears.