COVID may have changed a lot of things, but one thing it can’t alter: Kids need new experiences to learn and grow. And summer camp still offers the opportunity for kids to enjoy nature, meet people, build their independence and learn new skills. Camps are hoping to provide a sense of normalcy to kids this summer. “They have made lots of preparations to reduce risk and keep campers as safe as possible,” says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association of NY and NJ. That means the protocols we’ve all become familiar with will be in place, including screening kids before they attend camp, wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible and plenty of handwashing. In addition to packing masks, hand sanitizer and other COVID essentials, here’s what else you need to do before camp starts:


Even before COVID, kids needed checkups from their pediatricians before starting either day or sleepaway camp. Health forms must be filled out by your child’s doctor and turned in before arrival, so schedule an appointment ASAP. “Your pediatrician will give your child an exam and review ongoing issues such as allergies or asthma,” says Hanan Tanuos, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric primary care at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “We also want to make sure kids are up to date on vaccines and have any prescription medications they may need, such as asthma inhalers or insulin.”


If your child has special medical needs, check in with the nurse, says Lupert. Even though you’ve sent the medical forms, its a good idea to be proactive and discuss your child’s conditions ahead of time. Be sure to find out about your camp’s policies on prescription medications, such as who administers them, where they’ll be stored (usually at the nurse’s office) and whether your child can take over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol.


The last thing you want is a toothache or a broken wire on braces while your kid is at day camp or sleepaway. If you’re behind on checkups due to the shutdown, schedule one now. “We don’t want a child to have the start of a cavity that may get uncomfortable while he or she is at camp,” says Jessica Y. Lee, DDS, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “Depending on the types of activities at camp, you also should ask your dentist about making a mouth guard.” If your child has braces, call your orthodontist to make sure wires and brackets are in good shape. Don’t forget to pack dental wax, a toothbrush (with cover), toothpaste and dental flossers for kids with braces (which kids wearing braces should bring with them for both sleepaway and day camp).


Make sure kids have long pants (to keep ticks off!), rain gear and sturdy, closed toe shoes or boots for sleepaway camp. Flip flops are a no-no for hiking because they have no support and don’t protect toes, says Tanuos. If your child wears glasses, pack an extra pair.


Pack a hat your kid likes (so he or she will actually wear it). Teach kids how to put on sunscreen, and use a minimum of 30 SPF, says Tanuos. Sprays are okay, but it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re applying enough. Sticks aren’t ideal, but they’re convenient and may be easier for kids to apply sunscreen in a hurry. “Kids learn from repetition, so if your family wears sunscreen all the time, they’ll be better about remembering to apply it when they’re away from you,” says Tanuos. Swim shirts with built-in sun protection are also a must.


Show kids how to apply insect repellent, and stick with products that contain DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus to keep ticks away. Teach them to check themselves for ticks, and to let a counselor know if they find one, says Tanuos. Favorite tick hiding places: the scalp, under arms, in and around ears, at the back of knees and at waistbands.

—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.