Searching for a positive learning environment for my own child I founded The Learning Camp in Colorado, nearly 15 years ago. Choosing the appropriate summer camp for your LD child can become one of the many challenges facing parents. Unable to find specifically what I was looking for, I started a camp myself to create EXACTLY what I wanted for my son! Now having hosted thousands of children at our little summer camp, there are many things I would recommend when deciding what to look for in a summer camp experience for your child with learning differences.
Ann Cathcart with her now grown son, Tucker
When sending your child into the care of others it is SO important to be certain that they will understand and take good care of your child! Your confidence in a summer camp will be enhanced by lengthy conversations with camp personnel or the camp director. If a camp is too busy to return your phone calls, or take the time to talk at length with you, will they be too busy for your child as well? Regardless of all that a camp may have to offer, if the director or the staff are too busy for you now, it should be a red flag! Find a camp that will give you and your child the time and attention that you both deserve. Feel free to ask for references, and then talk to other parents about their experience with the camp you are considering. It is extremely important that you feel comfortable with the program you are choosing and sometimes that requires many questions.
Consider these factors when determining what camp program will best fit the needs of your child:
Type of program
Deciding to send your child with learning disabilities to camp can be a huge decision for the first time family. Both you and your child need to be ready for the independence and growth.
Decide early in the process what type of program you want for your child. Camps are offered as day programs (campers go home at night) and residential programs (camper’s board at the camp facility for the length of their stay). Camp programs vary from as short as one week, to several weeks, to all summer. Be certain that your child is ready to cope with the length of the program you select. Talk to your child about what they would like in a summer camp. Get some of their ideas. I have always been a believer in listening to your son or daughter.
Your child can be mainstreamed into a regular camp setting, or attend a camp that focuses on their particular needs. There are also camps that mix up many needs, such as Learning Disabilities, Emotional Disorders, and Behavior Disorders. There are also camps that truly specialize. Be completely honest when talking with camp directors or camp personnel about the needs of your child. You’ll need to decide which type of environment will best address your child’s needs.
Camps range in size from 400 or more children per session to as small as 10-20 children per session. It is purely a personal decision for each family. Make a point of asking the camp director for information about the number of campers in the program.
Educational vs. recreational camps
Many camps for learning disabled children are purely recreational, while other programs combine both recreational and educational activities. Some programs, while calling themselves “camp,” have day long academic focus. Inquire about the percentage of camp time devoted to varying activities and decide what mix will best serve your child’s specific needs.
Location and facilities
Choose the type of setting that you think your child will enjoy. There are many beautiful camps in the eastern half of the country that have lakefront and forest locations. There are also many camps that are actually boarding schools that call themselves camps, during the summer months. There are fewer camps in the west, but the west offers a completely different experience because of the Rocky Mountains and the distinctive western culture. Some camps are very luxurious and others are true camping experiences. Ask about eating, sleeping, bathing and medical facilities and be sure that your child will feel comfortable in the particular setting offered by the camp. Many camps have photos of their facilities on their website which can be very helpful to see from the start. If the camp you are interested in does not have photos, be sure to ask alot of questions about the facilities.
The American Camping Association requires one counselor for each eight children. When working and living with children with learning disabilities, a ratio of one to three or four is preferred. It is important to determine if the counselors and teachers are educated, and trained to work with children with learning disabilities. Ask the ages and educational background of the counselors. For residential programs, be sure to determine the level of staff supervision in the evening hours. You want your child to receive the attention they need in the camp environment. In addition, determine the level of medical training the staff has received. If your child takes regular medication, will trained staff be on duty each day to administer the medication?
Program philosophy should be clearly stated in the camp literature. Your family should be comfortable with this philosophy and confident that it will deliver an enjoyable experience for your child. Of particular importance is the camp’s policy regarding family communication with the child. Will the child be expected, in fact encouraged, to write to his/her family during the camp stay? Will phone calls to/from home be allowed? If not, what is the recommended form of communication for the camp? How are disciplinary issues addressed? Discuss menus. Make certain you are comfortable with the policies of the camp and that your child will flourish in their setting.
Summer camp should focus on enhancing your child’s self-esteem and independence. The successful camp experience should improve social skills and provide quality peer relationships. Your camper should return home feeling better about themselves than when their summer began.
If I can be of any help in making your selection, do not hesitate to contact me ! Here are some online camp resources and directories (check under the “special needs” section):
Founder, The Learning Camp
To read more about summer camps for learning disabilities, go to the following question in our Questions and Answers Section: “Can you recommend summer camps especially for kids with special needs?”
For information on supporting your child when he or she is at camp, read: When the Child with Special Needs Goes Off to Summer Camp.