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Tips and Recommendations for a Safe and Healthy Camp Experience

If you’re like many parents in the Metroplex, 

you’re busy right now trying to decide which summer and sports camps your children will be attending and thinking about how to prepare them for a fun, healthy and safe experience away from home.

With those decisions, it’s natural for parents to experience some anxiety; especially for those who have first-time campers, children with chronic health issues or youngsters who may be learning a new sport.

Based on years of experience as a family nurse practitioner in Texas who has talked to parents and children and completed hundreds of camp physical exams, the following are some key recommendations and tips.

Camp Choice

If you’ve yet to make a final camp decision, make sure the options you are considering are the right match for your child’s interests and capabilities. Take into account their age, personality and self-confidence and whether they can perform at the fitness level required for specific activities. Ask about pick up and drop off policies, mail, phone and care package rules. Also, having an emergency contact list for your child and counselors is essential for your camper to feel safe and emotionally involved and ready.

Camp Health Policies

Review the camp’s health care policies and practices. If you can’t readily obtain this information, it could be a red flag.

Websites and camp registration materials should clearly state whether a medical professional such as a nurse or certified athletic trainer (in the case of sports camps) is always on site and whether counselors have received CPR and first aid training. Other key information is the camp’s parental notification policy and its proximity to emergency medical facilities such as an ER or urgent care center.

Camp Physicals Determine whether a camp physical is needed in advance. Most camps require this and often I see parents who wait until the last minute or forget to schedule an appointment. Camp physicals can be obtained from your child’s pediatrician or at local walk-in retail clinics. Health insurance providers will not cover camp and sports physicals, so be sure to ask about the cost in advance. Prices can vary quite a bit.

A proper camp physical should include the following: review of health history and immunizations, height and weight check, thorough physical exam and a stamp or signature on exam forms.

Chronic Health Issues

If your child has asthma, diabetes, serious allergies or other chronic health care concerns, there are added considerations you need to factor into your camp choice and preparation. I advise parents who have children who require daily care to contact the camp in advance to understand how medicines and preventive treatment are handled and what your child can administer on their own. This could include inhalers for asthma treatment, insulin injections and other prescription medication.

If your child has food allergies, speak with the camp nutritionist or cook to ensure that menus can be tailored to dietary requirements. And if they have a peanut allergy or are allergic to insect stings or scorpion and spider bites, determine whether they can carry their own epinephrine auto-injector to defend against anaphylaxis shock. Make sure that camp counselors are equipped with an extra auto-injector on site and are trained to administer care.

Lastly, when you drop your child off at camp, meet with the appropriate staff members and go over the details one last time so there is no miscommunication about what is necessary and expected for your child’s care.

What to Pack

Begin early by putting together a camp packing list. Some of the items that I remind parents to include in their child’s bag are: broken-in hiking boots or tennis shoes; slip-resistant water shoes for showers and the pool; lightweight, long-sleeve shirts for hikes and activities (to protect against ticks, poison ivy and the sun’s rays); adhesive bandage for cuts and blisters; hand sanitizer; athlete’s foot medication; lip balm; necessary eye care items including sun glasses, protective goggles for sports, extra contact lenses or glasses; and hats for sun protection. Remember to label everything!

For sun block, you should choose a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of 30 or higher which blocks 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays with spray and stick options for easier application. Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Insect repellent (with/without DEET) are available in spray or wipe options.

As a parent, your careful planning and preparation should help to ensure a safe journey of fun and growth for your child.

(Mindy Barrett is a mother of two middle schoolers living in Flower Mound, TX and a Family Nurse Practitioner at Minute Clinic in Flower Mound.)