Overnight summer camp teaches skills in a variety of disciplines – sports, arts, nature and the like. However, the enduring value of summer camp is not the skills that it teaches, but the values and traits of character that it imparts. A camp experience teaches children to work together more cooperatively, resolve conflicts, assume responsibility, and develop self-reliance and self-confidence.
Parents of kids and teens with special needs may be reluctant to send their children to sleep-away camp. Yet, these children – specifically those who struggle socially – stand to benefit the most from the right camp experience. More than anything, great camps teach socialization skills. Overnight camp is an environment in which children learn about living, working, and playing together in a supportive community. Many children form their fondest memories and their deepest friendships at camp.
Of course, not every camp is equipped to address the specific needs of every child. Finding the right camp is paramount to a successful experience. Here are some suggestions for navigating the process:
Selecting a Summer Camp for Your Child
The first step should be to discuss the process as a family. Make sure you and your child are on the same page. It’s never a good idea for him/her to find a brochure in the mail before you’ve talked about camp!
Questions to ask yourself and your family
- What is on my “must-have” list? (e.g. certain program offerings, minimum session length, …)
- Will my child “regress” without certain interventions?
- What type of environment is necessary for my child to make progress in his social/emotional/educational development?
- Is my child prepared to live in a more independent way?
- What kind of support does my child need to be successful?
- What are my goals in sending my child to camp?
- How important is it to me what the other campers are like? How similar to my child do they have to be in order for him/her to fit in well?
You’re now ready to do some research. Use the American Camp Association, the Web or resources within your community to identify potential camps. Request and review camp websites and brochures.
In our next post: Questions to ask the camp directors. Stay tuned!
— Eric and Debbie