June 22, 2021
Summer Fun at Camp Nottayitchamungu
Each year, a lot of parents pack up their children and send them off to summer camp – allergies and all. This may be a dream come true for some parents who treasure fond memories of sleep-away camps as a child. Remember way back then? The only social networking was sitting around a campfire telling corny jokes and singing songs.
You may have never considered a summer camp experience for your child because of allergies. For children with food allergies and asthma, going away to camp is not a simple decision, but lots of parents have learned to make careful arrangements to provide a meaningful camp experience, nonetheless.
“A Day at Camp is Like Being at Home for a Week”– Joseph, young camper, age 9
With so much to consider and plan – and pack! – begin at the beginning. Choose the right camp. The following considerations may be helpful:
- Is your child ready for sleep-away camp or would a local day camp be more suitable?
- What are your child’s interests? Explore the theme and accommodation style of each camp; there are a lot to choose from, for example: art camp, drama camp, dance and sport camps, and the currently popular STEM camps.
- This may sound obvious, but directly speak with camp directors, don’t just communicate via text and emails. Personal calls help reveal a camp’s level of involvement and ability to handle your child’s allergy and asthma needs. Ask lots of questions, such as:
- Are campers required to bring their own lunch and snacks?
- Are separate places available to eat, away from allergens?
- Will there be crafts using potential allergen triggers – such as peanut butter bird feeders or macaroni jewelry? Are substitutions available?
- Who handles medical care at camp? Are they trained to use an EpiPen?
Here are some questions to ask regarding overnight camps:
- If meals are prepared at camp, ask to be sent a copy of the menu.
- Are allergen-free meals made in a separate area with designated utensils to avoid cross-contamination?
- If no allergen free meals are available, can you send food?
- Is camp staff knowledgeable of correct storage methods for medications?
- Will there be field trips? Will drivers and leaders be trained to handle children with allergies?
- Is there cell phone reception?
- How close is the nearest hospital?
Narrow your choices down to camps that best accommodate your child’s allergen needs. Trust your instincts. Ideally, a well-prepared camp will work hard to be inclusive and not label a camper as an ‘allergen risk’ and will be skilled at using all the tools available to provide a memorable, fun-filled camp week. Also, there are camps specifically created and tailored to children with asthma and allergy conditions. These camps offer specialized medical staff and personnel who know how to treat allergies and asthma. Consult with your allergist or do a quick internet search to find if any of these camps are near you.
“I Toldcha’ I Didn’t Need That Big Backpack, I Wore the Same Shorts all Week Long!”– Jocelyn, veteran camper, age 10
Whether you decide on day camp or a weeklong sleep-away excursion, two weeks out until camp begins is an optimum time to check supplies and to-do lists. Here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling:
- Along with your camp registration paperwork, include a letter describing the severity of your child’s allergy and reactions. Your allergist can also create a personalized plan to include with other camp paperwork and provide additional medical information if requested by your choice of camps.
- Replace expired medications. Make sure you have enough current medication to last the duration of camp especially if the location is remote.
- Review with your child how to manage themselves and their food allergies. Your child should be able to name and recognize safe and unsafe foods. Encourage your child to tell other campers about their food allergies so if a reaction occurs, they will know how to help.
- Show them how to read food labels.
- .Teach them how to use an EpiPen, if necessary.
- Prepare a ‘Personal Packet for child’s name ‘. The Packet is a large envelope that includes:
- a recent photo of your child
- an allergy action plan
- medical documents and allergist’s recommendations
Finally, make a follow-up phone call to the camp director. Make sure all staff has been made aware of your child’s allergy. FoodAllergy.com has a great template you may want to use to help organize your plan.
“The Day I Left, I was Homesick; Today I Got Back, Now I’m Campsick!”– Nick, first-timer, age 13
The big day finally arrives and off you go to camp! At drop off, take a few minutes to introduce your child, meet the staff personally and hand the camp director or coordinator your child’s ‘Personal Packet’. If your child is attending a day camp and returns at the end of the day, check in with him to make sure of follow-through with the allergy plan. Ask about the menu and hands-on projects.
Finally, don’t forget to allow yourself to relax and let your child have fun, too. You did your homework, and you chose the best camp experience possible for your child.
Safety is priority for campers, counselors, and support staff at any summer camp, be it day camp or sleep-away. Most camp directors and their staff take food allergies very seriously and are given in-depth safety and awareness training. As allergy and asthma triggers increase, thankfully so do facts and management stratagems. It is reassuring to know that kids’ camps are more than ever “allergy aware”.