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Selecting a summer camp for kids with learning or attention problems

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By Linda Broatch, M.A. , Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Questions to ask camp staff before you apply

Because they deal with large groups of kids, most camps expect a child to conform to camp structure and rules quickly and easily, so they can stay on schedule and meet group needs. This expectation can create challenging situations for a child with learning or attention problems. To avoid a situation that's frustrating for camp staff and your child, it's a good idea to ask staff lots of questions before you enroll your child in any camp. Even if you are lucky enough to have a camp available that is designed especially for kids with learning and/or attention difficulties, you'll still want to ask several questions to insure that your child's experience is safe and enjoyable. The following are suggested questions to ask camp administrators and/or staff. Those with this symbol (†) apply more to kids with learning or attention problems. Depending on whether you want to disclose your child's learning or attention difficulties, you might choose not to ask these more focused questions.

  • How long has the camp been operating?
  • What is the overall philosophy/approach on which the camp is run?
  • What are the camp's goals for kids who attend?
  • What is the staff-to-student ratio?
  • What training and/or credentials does the staff have for working with kids in a recreational setting?
  • Are background checks on criminal activity conducted for all staff? Are former employers contacted for references?
  • How much attention is given to an individual child's interests and/or preferences?†
  • What is the approach to behavior management?
  • How do you discipline children?
  • How do you help a child who is impulsive, distractible or disorganized stay on track?†
  • How do you support kids who have low self-image, are shy or lack social skills?†
  • What does a typical day's schedule look like?
  • Are kids supervised at all times?
  • How are medication needs handled?†
  • How much and what kind of communication can parents expect from camp staff?
  • How often can a child be in contact with parents?
  • Can you arrange for me to speak to parents whose kids have recently attended your camp?

If you feel there is important information about your child that the camp application doesn't ask for, attach a brief letter to provide a more detailed picture of your child's strengths, challenges, or needs. Highlight key points so that staff can easily scan it.

Planning for summer camps can be overwhelming, especially for kids with learning or attention problems. With some research and planning, you're more likely to find camps that are a good fit for your child's needs and interests. If you're lucky, you might even be able to use the time while your child is at camp for a little rest and relaxation of your own.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.