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July 13, 2013

Doctor offers prescriptions for a pain-free camp stay

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Summertime means many things to many people, but for children it is a time to play outside all day long.

Families in upstate New York have many options for summer activities. Hundreds of summer camps offer overnight or day camping experience for children of all ages, interests and abilities in the Catskill and Adirondack regions.

While many camping experiences include the whole family, there is something about going away to an overnight camp that enriches childhood. 

“Attending camp can be an unforgettable experience for young children,” said M. Kwan Chan-House, doctor of pediatric medicine at A.O. Fox Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Healthcare Associates. “It can have a positive effect on their psychological development, self=esteem and independence.”

Choosing a camp that is right for the child and affordable for the parents is the first step in preparing for a successful camping experience. Prices range from about $500 per week to several thousand dollars per week. Often camps will focus on activities such as water sports, team sports, arts, theater or nature. There are many camps in the region that serve special-needs children.

The American Camp Association website for the New York and New Jersey regions has many camping options listed. The site is user-friendly and provides search criteria including price, co-ed or single-sex, activity-specific and area-specific, to help narrow the field.

“Before choosing a camp, parents should evaluate their child’s interests, skills and overall well-being to make sure the child can effectively participate in a particular camp environment,” Chan-House said. “Parents should also medically and psychologically prepare their child for camp, and work with their pediatrician, camp health providers and administrators on a pre-camp health evaluation.”

Making sure the child has a positive camping experience takes a little preparation and organization. 

After choosing the right camp, parents will receive a list of items that must be provided. Medical records, including any know allergies or illness will be requested by camp personnel. In addition, there will be a list of items — from toiletries to clothing — that are required for the camper. Any item sent from home should include the child’s name written in permanent marker.

Parents need to provide updated medical records as well as any information about the child that would be necessary for the child’s comfort and well-being. Most camps require a full physical report from a pediatrician that includes contact information and a letter that gives the camp permission to seek emergency care if it is needed.

It is a good idea to inform the child’s primary care physician that she is attending camp, in case an emergency arises.

“All campers should provide the camp with a complete annual review of their health by their primary care doctor,” Chan-House said. “An evaluation within 6 months before the start of camp is recommended for children with ongoing health-care needs. Before starting camp, all campers should be in compliance with the recommended childhood immunization schedule. Campers ages 10 to 11 should have a Tdap booster; those ages 11 to 12 should receive the first in the series of two meningitis shots.”

Children with medical or psychological issues can have a good experience at camp if the staff is aware of any problems before camp begins. Allergies to food or insects should be not only listed in the camp form, but parents should talk to camp personnel to make sure there have plans to deal with any reactions. Bed-wetters should be able to enjoy a full camping experience if the camp staff is aware of the issue and can help the child subtly manage it.

“Bed-wetting should not prevent a child from attending overnight camp,” Chan-House said. “It is a good idea to be up-front and honest with the staff at the camp about the bed-wetting problem, so they can be aware of the situation and can help the camper handle it discretely. And, also assure your camper that they are not alone. “

Another issue that children may face is homesickness.

“To prevent homesickness, it may be helpful for parents to involve their child in choosing and preparing for camp,” Chan-House said. “Stay positive about the upcoming experience and speak openly about homesickness. It may also be helpful to arrange trips or sleepovers away from home with friends or relatives.”

With a plan and preparation, most children should have an enjoyable experience at sleep-away camp.