Safety has always been the number one priority for summer camps. This summer it is both more important than ever and also uniquely challenging. This responsibility for healthy camps goes both ways – families also must take steps to ensure that they are not sending kids to camp who are carrying communicable diseases. 

These requirements feel even more important than usual this summer. As you make decisions about if, how, and when your camp will run, managing health and safety on-site will come down to local and state regulations, guidance from the ACA, best practices from the CDC, and advice from your legal counsel. We also expect there to be additional guidance for how parents and caregivers must approach their responsibilities for health at home. 

That said, camps can take steps to remind parents that it’s not just about their own child after all – it’s about the entire camp community. The message you must communicate with your camp parents is that no matter the summer or the circumstances, healthy camps begin with health at home. 

Mary Marugg is the Technology Specialist for the Association of Camp Nursing (ACN) and has been involved with the organization for more than 26 years. She is also a founding director of Sonlight Camp in Colorado, making her uniquely positioned to suggest best practices that camps can start communicating to families. Here are four tips she says you can begin with now and that can be part of pre-camp messaging every summer. 

Tip #1: Start and Maintain Healthy Habits

person washing their hands

COVID-19 and other communicable diseases are obviously top of mind going into this camp season, but Marugg says that parents and caregivers also need to help kids establish healthy habits that they can continue throughout the summer. Parents should reinforce actions such as sneezing or coughing into a sleeve or elbow, washing hands after using the bathroom and before meals, and wearing sunscreen. 

Other examples include getting enough rest and sleep, drinking enough water, and eating nutritious foods.

These may seem like small and obvious tips, but creating this foundation of well-being helps maintain a safer environment at camp. It also builds physical resilience in campers, which can help them navigate the new people, routines, and spaces they might be experiencing and interacting with at camp. Marugg explains that the more ingrained these behaviors are before camp, the more likely kids are to maintain them throughout the summer.

Tip #2: Don’t Overlook Emotional Well-being

a woman and her child hugging each other

Parents have to take steps to monitor their kids’ emotional health before sending them to camp. This summer, children might be struggling more acutely due to recent experiences with quarantine and other stressors, and caregivers should not assume that these challenges are just going to disappear when the kids get to camp. 

Marugg says that camp can absolutely be helpful and healing for campers, but just because it is fun and social doesn’t mean camp is a “fix all” solution  for emotions that need to be processed. 

Fresh air, a change of pace, and a new environment may be just what some kids need, while others may feel scared to be apart from families. Some campers may ease into the social scene at camp, while others will struggle to adjust. 

Parents and caregivers are responsible for taking stock of their kids’ pre-camp emotional state and not expecting that camp will magically make all their fears and anxieties disappear. Every kid is different, and there is no one way that they will respond to starting camp this summer. Parents should inform camp directors and staff of any emotional support needs their kids may have. This is true every summer, but even more so this year when kids have been faced with unprecedented stressors.

Marugg says that camp can absolutely be helpful and healing for campers, but just because it is fun and social doesn’t mean camp is a “fix all” solution  for emotions that need to be processed.

Tip #3: Share Updates with Your Camp and Your Kids

a person completing a checklist with a pen

That brings us to Marugg’s next tip: telling camps everything they might need to know about a child’s health. Communication before camp is key to creating a healthy environment all summer long. Parents need to be as clear as possible with camp staff about what type of support their kids might need. 

Your camp’s health forms should include a space for parents to describe their child’s mention, emotional, and social needs. Marugg suggests that camps tell parents not to hold back when completing this section – this information can provide staff with all the details they need to anticipate and handle every camper’s needs.

In the other direction, caregivers need to communicate to their kids any new measures they can expect at camp. This summer, camps will likely provide parents with information on how the health screening process will be handled, and caregivers should share this information to their kids. If anything is going to be new or different (which is almost certain this summer), kids should be prepared in advance as much as possible.

Additionally, parents should explain to their kids who they should turn to if anything at camp starts to create stress or anxiety. Even the best prepared kids might still be triggered by new environments, so it’s critical they understand that the camp director and counselors are there to guide them through these challenges.

Tip #4: Don’t Send Contagious Kids to Camp

adult taking a child's temperature

Parents must take every precaution to avoid sending a contagious child to camp. With COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, parents need to understand that camp is a physically close community and an environment where things can spread easily and quickly. It’s not just injuries and broken bones that families need to think about.

Bottom line: if parents and caregivers know or even think their kids have been exposed to the Coronavirus (or any other communicable disease), or if their kids are experiencing any symptoms, they should absolutely not send them to camp. This may seem obvious, but it can’t be overstated. 

Marugg reminds us that this applies to both day camp environments (where campers are coming and going all the time) and at sleepaway camps (where kids and staff are attending from a variety of geographic locations). Each of these factors comes with its own considerations and complications, which is why families need to take their role in this equation seriously. If day campers develop symptoms mid-session, parents also need to tell camp leaders immediately.

Additionally, parents need to avoid the instinct to send kids to camp who aren’t feeling well, under the assumption that once they get to camp they will be distracted by friends and fun activities and start to feel better. Marugg explains that this is a common tactic but is a risk that should never be taken in any summer, regardless of the risks posed by COVID-19.

Take a Team Approach

a boy smiling

As we monitor the situation together, let’s keep in mind that we all want to see as many camps run this summer as possible, and in the safest ways. That can’t happen unless parents work with camps to do their part for everyone’s health. If you need additional resources about health and safety this summer, the Association of Camp Nursing has a wide selection, including this PDF that offers even more advice for parents

A healthy camp experience is what we all want for every camper, and this requires a commitment from camps and caregivers. Only as partners, explains Marugg, can we give kids the best summer possible, which is more important than ever in these hard circumstances.

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