Whether it’s day or sleepaway camp, there’s plenty you can do to prepare your kids for a safe and healthy summer. “Camp is a great experience, but teach kids to speak up for themselves if they’re not feeling well,” says Joseph Schwab, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. “They should know basic safety measures, such as checking themselves for ticks and how to put on sunscreen.” Here’s what else you can do to keep your kids feeling their best during their adventures:
SCHEDULE HEALTH VISITS
Most day and sleepaway camps require health forms be filled out by your child’s pediatrician before drop-off day, says Schwab. Make sure to check if your kids are up-to-date on immunizations.
If your child needs daily medication or requires an EPIPEN, make sure that’s noted on the health form. Kids who wear braces or Invisalign should check in with the orthodontist to make sure they have plenty of supplies and are current on their visits before camp starts.
ASK ABOUT UNEXPECTED EVENTS
Schwab suggests parents ask about how emergencies are handled. “Does the camp have a relationship with a local ER or urgent care? How will they contact you in an emergency?” he says. “You also should inquire about camp safety policies and rules. For example, ask how many lifeguards are present for swimming, and if life jackets are required when boating.” The same goes for other activities such as horseback riding or biking, for which kids should be wearing helmets.
Every camp is different, but many are no longer requiring COVID tests. Ask your camp ahead of time so you know what to expect if your child isn’t feeling well. And don’t send your kid if they’re sick, though if there’s no fever, diarrhea or vomiting, they may be well enough to attend, but check with your camp, says Schwab.
TALK TO THE HEALTHCARE STAFF
Connect with the camp nurse ahead of time if your child has special medical needs or requires prescription medication. Also, ask where medications will be stored and how they will be administered, says Schwab. For example, can older kids use an asthma inhaler on their own or does the nurse or counselor have to keep it?
SLATHER ON THE SUNSCREEN
“Sunburn is probably the most common health risk at camp,” says Jeffrey Litt, director of East Brunswick Day Camp. “Fortunately, products such as sprays and roll-ons are much easier for even little kids to use.” Make sure it’s at least SPF 30 sunscreen, and pack a bottle, tube or stick (write their name on it!) in their backpacks. Camps usually have sunscreen breaks when counselors stop activities and have everyone reapply. Don’t forget SPF 30 lip balm, hats and sun-protective clothing, such as rash guards.
SEND A WATER BOTTLE
Many camps require kids to come with refillable water bottles so they can stay hydrated in the heat. “We’ll take group water breaks throughout the day because kids may forget to drink and can still get dehydrated, even when in the water,” says Litt. The bottle should be unbreakable, and one your child actually likes to use. Again, label it with your child’s name.
DON’T FORGET BUG SPRAY
For outdoor activities, kids should use repellents with 10 to 30 percent DEET or picaridin to prevent insect-borne illnesses such as Lyme, West Nile and Zika virus. But don’t use combination sunscreen and insect repellents because sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, while bug sprays shouldn’t be applied that often. After hikes and other outdoor activities, teach kids to inspect areas such as behind the ears, on the scalp and even under clothing for ticks, says Schwab.
BREAK IN NEW SHOES
Sneakers and socks are generally required at camp, so have your child break in new shoes a few weeks ahead of time, says Schwab. There’s nothing worse than shoes that pinch or cause blisters when you’re trying to have fun! Most camps don’t allow flip-flops or Crocs, except for around the water.
KEEP THE CAMP INFORMED
In case of an illness, anyone who’s authorized to pick up your child from day camp or sleepaway camp should be listed on the camp’s intake forms. Make sure to list at least two contacts. “Most camps check IDs and a pickup person needs to be on the list, or we have to go through a series of steps to ensure we can send your child home with them,” says Litt. “Even if it’s just the one time Grandma has to do it, she should be listed as an authorized pickup person to save everyone time and frustration.”
—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.