Deciding on the right camp for your child with special needs is the first step to having a positive camp experience. Now that you have done your research and selected the perfect camp, what’s next? How can you prepare your child for the best summer camp experience?
I recently had the chance to sit down with a Behavioural Consultant from the Family and Community Behavioural Services team at Halton Region to get some tips. She said getting ready for camp comes down to two important things:
- Preparing your child for the camp
- Preparing the camp for your child
Preparing your child for camp
Here are a few ideas on how to prepare your child for camp:
- Talk about camp with your child in a positive way, by showing enthusiasm and excitement, even if you feel a bit nervous yourself. Your confidence in your child’s ability to go to camp is very important.
- Give your child a visual glimpse of what it is going to be like at camp. If you have the opportunity to visit the camp, go! Take your child, let them look around, hear the sounds, smell the scents and meet the counsellors. Take photos of your visit. It’s a reassuring sneak peak of what to expect!
- If visiting the camp is not possible, search online together for pictures or videos of the camp and camp counsellors. Ask the camp to send you some pictures if they are not available online.
- Create a photo book of your child’s visit to camp or from the online pictures – a simple sleeved photo book is perfect.
- Ask for a schedule of camp activities. Create a visual schedule or daily plan to show your child the new routine. Visuals provide information for your child and can help alleviate some of the stress of not knowing what to expect. Their routine might change day-to-day at camp, so be sure to check in so you can create a visual schedule for each day.
- Start a camp countdown calendar at home so your child can anticipate when this new, fun experience will start!
Preparing the camp for your child
Children with special needs are more likely to succeed at camp if parents and camp counsellors work together. Sometimes as a parent of a child with differing abilities you might be hesitant to share too much information about your child with the camp for fear they will not get a spot or be treated differently. This is understandable, however good camps will want and need to know as much as possible about your child. The more information they have, the better.
- Try to be as honest as possible with the camp. In addition to all the prerequisite paperwork, share your child’s strengths and needs with the camp. Prepare a page or two called “Getting to know my child.” Include a section that starts with the phrase, “These things work really well with my child.” Share their likes and dislikes, fears, anxieties or triggers. Write down a few phrases that your child tends to respond to or use. Keep the information strength-based and simple. Try to share what is most important for the counsellors to know about your child.
- Start off camp with a good communication plan. If you can, chat with the camp counsellors at drop-off and pick-up every day. Find out what went well and work together to find solutions to what didn’t go so well.
- Check in with your child and talk about their day at camp. There might be challenges you can help your child work through during the week.
Sending your child to camp can be a nerve-racking experience. But by planning ahead, preparing your child, and preparing the camp for your child, fun summer memories are just around the corner. Enjoy!
Do you have other tips for helping prepare children with special needs for camp? We would love to hear them!
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