The end of school is here, and summer camp is upon us. Great news for both kids and parents who have faced pandemic-related persistent cancellations and the stress that comes along with adapting to an ever-changing environment. Camp is not only a reliable childcare option for working parents, it also improves kids’ mental and physical health, which has been significantly impacted in recent years.
Summer camp allows kids to explore the world around them, gain confidence and find their voice. Research shows that spending time in nature among trees and the fresh air can have a healing effect, especially for kids who live in urban areas. Physical activity like hiking, biking and canoeing can decrease depression and anxiety, foster good sleep habits and support a healthy weight, among many other benefits. Camp also allows kids to build relationships outside of their everyday school environment, decompress and share life experiences with their peers and camp counselors. After losing two years of socialization due to the pandemic, this kind of social interaction is more important than ever, and camp allows that to be accelerated.
While there are many documented health benefits of summer camp, sending kids to a new location this summer can worry parents. What if they don’t drink enough water? What if they have a run-in with poison oak or mosquitos? What if they get a sunburn?
As the Medical Director of Hartford Healthcare-GoHealth Urgent Care, I’ve treated kids with minor injuries and illnesses that are common among young campers. In fact, we work closely with camps across Connecticut to provide real-time access to a full range of healthcare services on a virtual basis, including COVID-19 management, allowing camps to avoid unnecessarily transporting campers and staff off-site.
Whether your kids are attending a day camp or staying overnight, there are some steps you can take to prepare your kids so they can enjoy the many health benefits of camps, while also staying safe. Here are my tips:
- Confirm COVID-19 safety protocols. Talk to camp organizers to ensure their practices adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Factors to consider include: Are children outdoors most of the time? Will children be separated into smaller groups? Are counselors required to be vaccinated? These are the crucial questions I recommend asking to keep your young campers and family safe as they begin camp.
- Pack all medications. Whether your child takes a prescription medication every day or over-the-counter meds only as needed, they must have access to any medication they may need while at camp. Before dropping your child off at camp, review the camp’s website and any other materials provided to ensure you understand their medication protocols. Complete and submit all authorizations or forms and ask camp counselors to pack necessary medications such as inhalers or EpiPens on any off-site excursions.
- Remind them to wear sunscreen. While kids may not like taking a break from the fun to apply sunscreen, it is the best defense against sunburn. Anytime your child goes outside, they should apply a UVA/UVB sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher every two hours and after they swim, sweat, or shower. If your child gets a severe sunburn, the camp counselors should remove them from the sun, give them pain relievers, apply a cool, wet compress to the sunburn, and give them extra fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Send some insect repellent with them. Insect repellent can prevent itchy, uncomfortable insect bites. It also helps prevent insect-borne infections like Lyme disease and the West Nile and Zika viruses. Look for insect repellent with DEET and teach your children to carefully apply it over sunscreen by spraying onto their hands first and rubbing onto their exposed skin and face. In addition to applying insect repellent, children should wear light-colored long sleeves and pants to help avoid bites, and always conduct tick checks after hiking or playing in long grass.
- Give a crash course on plant safety. While vegetation and wildlife in nature are beautiful, they can also be hazardous. A knowledgeable guide should always supervise children if they are hiking or camping outdoors. Teach young campers how to recognize plants that should not be touched (like poison ivy). If your child touches or ingests a questionable plant, wash the area immediately with soap and water, remove all particles from their mouth and call the poison control center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.
- Practice water safety. Sign your child up for swimming lessons before they leave for camp. Make sure they know to never enter the water unless there is a counselor or lifeguard present. Children who are not proficient swimmers should always wear life jackets. So should anyone engaging in water activities like boating, water skiing, or jet skiing. Floatation devices, like water wings, should not be used as a safety device.
Teach children to never drink from natural water sources like ponds, lakes, or streams since these water sources often contain germs that can cause serious infections.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Children should drink at least two to eleven cups of water per day depending on their age and wear light-colored clothing when outdoors this summer. Remind them to bring their water bottle when leaving camp to hike or engage in other outdoor activities. If possible, sports and other strenuous activities should occur in the morning or late afternoon instead of the hottest hours of the day.
If you’re sending your kids to camp this summer, remember to be proactive. Advanced planning will help ensure young campers are prepared for safe and healthy adventures this summer. However, kids will be kids, and accidents do happen. If your family needs immediate care for a non-life-threatening illness or injury, please don’t hesitate to visit one of our centers.
Dr. Eric Walsh is the medical director of Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care