School is over and summer camp is just around the corner. Great news for kids and parents facing ongoing pandemic-related cancellations and the stress that comes with adjusting to an ever-changing environment. The camp is not only a reliable childcare option for working parents, it also improves the mental and physical health of the children, which has been badly affected in recent years.
The summer camp allows children to explore the world around them, gain confidence and find their voice. Research shows that being in nature among trees and in the fresh air can have healing effects, especially for children living in urban areas. Physical activity like hiking, biking, and canoeing can relieve depression and anxiety, promote good sleep habits, and support a healthy weight, among many other benefits. The camp also allows children to develop relationships outside of their everyday school environment, decompress and share life experiences with their peers and camp leaders. Having lost two years of socialization due to the pandemic, this type of social interaction is more important than ever and the camp allows for that to be accelerated.
While there are many documented health benefits of summer camp, sending kids somewhere new this summer can be worrying for parents. What if they don’t drink enough water? What if they collide with poison oak or mosquitoes? What if they get sunburned?
As Medical Director of Hartford Healthcare-GoHealth Urgent Care, I have treated children with minor injuries and illnesses common among young campers. In fact, we’re working closely with camps across Connecticut to provide real-time access, on a virtual basis, to a full suite of healthcare services, including COVID-19 management, so camps can avoid unnecessary off-site transportation of campers and staff.
Whether your kids are attending a day camp or staying overnight, there are some steps you can take to prepare your kids to enjoy the many health benefits of camps while staying safe. Here are my tips:
- Confirm COVID-19 safety protocols. Speak to camp organizers to ensure their practices follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Factors to consider are: Are children outdoors most of the time? Are the children divided into smaller groups? Do consultants need to be vaccinated? These are the crucial questions I recommend to keep your young campers and their family safe as they start camp.
- Pack all medicines. Whether your child takes prescription medication every day or over-the-counter medication only when needed, they must have access to any medication they may need while at camp. Before bringing your child to camp, check the camp website and any other materials provided to ensure you understand the medication protocols. Complete and submit any permits or forms and ask camp officials to pack necessary medication such as inhalers or EpiPens for off-site excursions.
- Remind them to wear sunscreen. While kids might not take a break from the fun to put on sunscreen, it’s their best defense against sunburn. Every time your child goes outside, they should apply UVA/UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every two hours and after swimming, sweating or showering. If your child gets severely sunburned, camp counselors should remove them from the sun, give them pain medication, apply a cool, damp compress to the sunburn, and give them extra fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Send along some insect repellent. Bug repellents can prevent itchy, uncomfortable bug bites. It also helps prevent insect-borne infections like Lyme disease and West Nile and Zika viruses. Look for insect repellents with DEET, and teach your kids to gently apply it over sunscreen, first spraying on their hands and rubbing onto their exposed skin and face. In addition to applying insect repellent, children should wear light-colored long sleeves and pants to avoid bites, and always check for ticks after hiking or playing in tall grass.
- Give a crash course in plant safety. While vegetation and wildlife in nature are beautiful, they can also be dangerous. A knowledgeable guide should always supervise children when hiking or camping outdoors. Teach young campers 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 any particles from the mouth, and call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
- Practice water safety. Sign your child up for swimming lessons before they leave for camp. Make sure they know they must never enter the water unless an advisor or lifeguard is present. Children who are not good swimmers should always wear life jackets. Anyone who engages in water activities such as boating, water skiing, or jet skiing should do this. Swimming aids, such as armbands, should not be used as a safety device.
Teach children never to drink from natural water sources such as ponds, lakes or streams as these water sources often contain germs that can cause serious infections.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Depending on their age, children should drink at least two to eleven cups of water a day this summer and wear light-colored clothing. Remind them to bring their water bottle when they leave camp for hiking or other outdoor activities. Exercise and other strenuous activities should be done in the morning or late afternoon whenever possible, rather than during the hottest part of the day.
As you send your kids to camp this summer, remember to be proactive. Planning ahead will help ensure young campers are prepared for safe and healthy adventures this summer. But kids are kids and accidents happen. If your family needs immediate care due to a non-life threatening illness or injury, please do not hesitate to visit one of our centers.
dr Eric Walsh is the Medical Director of Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care