You've decided to send your child to summer camp.
But, choosing a camp that fits your child’s personality (sports vs. nature camp, for example) can be a real challenge.
Plus, you might have to decide between day camp vs. overnight camp.
Corinn Cross, MD, is here to help you and your child with advice on easing the transition to camp, tips for success, dealing with homesickness and how kids benefit from camp.
RadioMD Presents:Healthy Children | Original Air Date: April 15, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Corinn Cross, MD
MELANIE: Well, it's actually time to be looking at summer camps. And, you think, “Well, this is really pretty early to be doing that”, but most camps already have filled out all their applications. They're expecting payments. I know I just finished. CC, my youngest daughter, she goes to acting camp here at the Park District and I had to finish payments by today, actually. So, it's not too early.
My guest is Dr. Cori Cross. She's a fan favorite here on Health Children, pediatrician and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, Dr. Cross, picking a summer camp for our children, whether it's sleep away camp, a short overnight camp, sports camp, art camp, religious camp, adventure camps. I mean there's so many. How do you decide?
DR CROSS: Well, I'd say that first, you should ask your child what it is they want to do; that they should be involved in the choosing, but sometimes, they can only choose what it is they normally do during the year, so they want to make sure you think about, “What is it I think that they're deficient in during the year? Is it that they don't get to do enough stuff outside? Do they only play baseball?” You know, things like that. If they only play baseball year round, maybe the logical thing to do would be to go to baseball camp, but maybe the fun thing would be to go to a real outdoorsy camp. So, you want to make sure that your summer compliments what you do during the year, but that it also gives you time to grow as a person. So, I would say, give them a choice between lots of different camps and maybe split it up. So, you might do a week of art camp, a week of a sports camp, and a week of a really outdoorsy camp. Something like that would be a nice balance.
MELANIE: Well, now, my daughter is not even into theater that much or anything, but both kids like it. But, it's a combo camp, so they put on a play, but they also go to the pool and they play camp games and sing camp songs, so it's kind of, you know, it's a Park District thing, but when I look at some of those adventure camps out there that you mentioned and some of these others, they look so much fun, but they're so expensive. What's a parent to do about the cost of summer camp?
DR CROSS: Summer camps can be very expensive. There's often lower cost options that are available through your town, so a lot of them will have outdoor camps that run out of the park. Now, they're not sleep away camps, but at least they are allowing you to unplug, experience nature, become confident and learn different skills. I think that what we need to remember when we think about camp is sometimes, the kids who excel at camp aren't necessarily the kids who excel at school or other sports, so this is the time to give other kids really that self-confidence that they need for life because the person who's the best at tying knots or doing drama or maybe some boating or dancing or archery, that's not necessarily the kid who's the best reader or the best kid at math or, you know throws the best in baseball. These are different kids. So, it allows other kids to excel, too, and to really get that self-reliance and leadership and confidence that we really want them to have for life.
MELANIE: So, when we're looking at sleep away camps, what do you look for? How do you know that your kid's going to be safe there? I just can't imagine weeks without my kids like that.
DR CROSS: That is hard. So, what I would say, is, obviously, you need to do your research. It's best if you can go for a visit. I also think that if you're going to go for a visit, bringing your child is a great thing to do because you want your child to be comfortable with that transition. So, if you're going to a sleep away camp, let your child be involved in the choosing. Hopefully, visit the camp first. Start with something short like one or two weeks. Then, you've got to think about what are they going to be required to do on their own and are they ready to do that? Are they old enough to shower and bathe themselves? Are they a really picky eater and so they're not going to eat and you're going to have to worry about that. Is this a kid who's really scared of sleepovers or a kid who can do great at sleepovers? How are they in new situations? That's how you can tell if your child is really ready for a sleep away camp. Of course, going with a friend always makes it easier, even if the friend is older, somebody that they have there so that they're not in this new situation all by themselves.
MELANIE: Then, what about checking out the camp as far as safety and, you know, the food quality or the, you know...Do you go there and really look around like that and check it out and say...You know, how do you even ask them about their safety guidelines and that sort of thing?
DR CROSS: Well, you should definitely ask them if they have a nurse on staff? Do they have a doctor on staff? What happens if somebody gets hurt? How far away is the nearest hospital? I mean, some of these camps up in the woods, you know, it takes a long time, should somebody get hurt, to get somewhere. So, you want to know what their plans are. You also want to know, “Can I check in with my kid?” because, you know, you want to make sure that your kid can tell you if they're not happy. So, how do you check in? Are you allowed to call? Are they allowed to call you? Are they allowed to call once a week or is it a pen and paper camp only? So, you know, I think that when you're able to get in touch with your child, you often feel more comfortable, but it really comes down to doing some research, getting some references and just seeing how do you feel about it. But, most of these camps have been checked out; they have to follow a lot of rules for the food; and most of them have a nurse on staff and have to have plans for if a kid were to get hurt, what do they do?
MELANIE: And what do you do if your kid hates camp? Whether it's Park District or sports camp, which some of my kids have been like, “Sports camp? Kids hate it. The coaches are so mean. They make them work even on the hottest days.” Or, if they go to sleep away camp and they hate it, do you make them stick it out or do you pull them out of the situation?
DR CROSS: I think it depends on their reason. So, if you're sending them to sleep away camp, you have to expect that they're going to have some homesickness. So I think that discussing with them what it means to be homesick; how they're going to feel; that this is normal and maybe telling them how you felt when you went to camp or in another situation when you were homesick, I think that normalizes it. I think if it's just being homesick, most kids are actually happy after they stick it out. Most kids are really thrilled that they had that experience. So, I don't think it's a good idea to have a pre-plan, like, “If you're not happy, I'm going to come pick you up.” I think that that sets them up for failure. But, of course, then, if you have somebody being mean to your kid; making them work when it's hot; something that, really, you think, “This is detrimental. This isn't beneficial, this isn't fun.” They're really not enjoying it and they're just getting bullied or whatever by the coach or by other kids. That's something where I say, “Yes. You know what? There's no reason to stick that out.” So, I think it really depends on the reason. If it's just that they changed their mind, for me, I would usually make my kids do it, because it's expensive, and I'm sorry. You can't change your mind. Try to get something out of it. But, if somebody is not being nice to them or, what they're doing is just not a good idea—making kids run in the heat, then I would definitely pull them.
MELANIE: Okay. So, you know, dealing with the homesickness and easing that transition, getting them adjusted and all of that sort of thing. Your best advice for sending your children to camp and picking a camp. I do like that you said, “If they play baseball, maybe do something different.” So, delve us into maybe a little bit of the sports camp situation and, if you're going to send your children to sports camp, Dr. Cross, what can you expect and do you want them to really cross train there?
DR CROSS: I think cross training is really important when you're looking at sports. I think if you're doing the same thing all the time, particularly as a child, you are often going to get an overuse injury. So, if you really think that your kid might be the next Tiger Woods or that baseball's going to be what gets them into college, you definitely don't want them to hurt their shoulder during the off season in the summer, so I think that cross training is something that we should think about and that we should think about whether or not we're going to cause an overuse injury in our kids when we send them to camp for the same thing that they do all year. At the same time, I think that sports camps where parents, I don't think, do enough research. They really need to know how many how breaks are these kids going to take; what do they do when it's hot. They need to know how often they are going to be throwing or doing the same repetitive motion. They need to really understand what the day is going to be like because at sports camp, a lot of times, kids are putting just a lot of strain and stress on their body in a different way than regular camps. So, I think if you're sending your kid to a sports camp, you can't just read that it's a basketball camp and sign them up, you need to do a little bit more research as to what you can expect from that camp.
MELANIE: I think that's a great point because I think for some reason, I'm not sure why, sports camp seem to be immune from the same regulations that if they are in Little League or if they are in AYSO soccer or if they're in...You know, sports camps seem to be able to get away with just a little more.
In the last 30 seconds, best advice for the parents out there that are looking at all those different camps online trying to decide what to do this summer for their kids.
DR CROSS: I think that making sure that your kids have a balance between sports and nature; a balance between what they do during the year and something new is great; and I think, also, understanding the benefits of summer and camp is really important when you go to pick something. Summer's a time where kids learn self-reliance because they're away from their parents. They learn leadership; they learn confidence; they learn self-esteem; they learn how to take on new situations. These are things that summer and that camp, in particular, can help our kids learn and that's something that they don't necessarily get at school where everybody's always all over them. So, I think that thinking about what you're trying to get out of camp helps you pick a camp that's going to be best for your kid.
MELANIE: Absolutely. Great information.
Thanks so much for listening. This is Melanie Cole. You're listening to RadioMD.