How to Spot a Great Camp for Kids with ADHD Summer Camp

With over 30 years experience running a kids and teens with ADHD summer camp, we’re often asked by the media, parents and experts to share our insights on how to choose the right summer camp. The Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC) asked Donna Segal and Rob Deman, our camp directors, to share their opinions on how to evaluate camps that cater to kids with ADHD, special needs and developmental delays. This article was featured in the CADDAC, January 2014 newsletter

How to Spot a Great Summer Camp for Kids and Teens with ADHD

By Rob Deman & Donna Segal, Co-Directors of Camp Kennebec

As co-directors of Camp Kennebec, an overnight summer camp near Toronto, that’s been making kids and teens with ADHD and other special needs happy since 1967, we know what it takes to build a wonderful program for kids and teens with ADHD.

If you find choosing a summer camp for your child is a stressful decision – you are not alone. Like most parents, you want the right camp where your child will be safe, happy and have a great experience. If your child has ADHD, your camp research is even more difficult, since you also have to feel comfortable that camp can accommodate your child’s needs

So how do you know if a camp is right for your child? Ask the right questions and do your homework. While you will likely have many questions you want answered, here are a few that are mandatory:

  1. Does the camp/director view ADHD as a medical condition or behavioural?

While this may seem like a strange question to start with – it will give you a great sense for a director’s approach. For example, some camps see ADHD symptoms and actions to be primarily behavioural, so the approach is to have very strict consequences for campers acting out or misbehaving — actions which campers may not really be able to control.

At Kennebec, we see actions and reactions from campers with ADHD to be primarily a medical condition that requires understanding, patience on the part of staff, and accommodation through flexible programing. We also find that with so much physical activity, fresh air, and fun, new, varied programs at camp, many ADHD symptoms lessen or even disappear over the summer.

Depending on your point of view, one camp may be a better fit for you.

  1. What do parents of current campers, staff say about camp? Will the camp provide you with references?

Do your research and find out all you can about the camp from existing parents, past parents, the Internet. I cannot speak for all directors, but we regularly arrange for prospective camp families to call or email existing camp families with their questions.

  1. Schedule an in person meeting with the camp director. You and your child should feel excited about camp by the end of the meeting. You should be able to answer yes to the question “Did you both enjoy spending time with the director.”

Let’s face it. A meeting with a camp director should be fun, interesting, informative and reassuring. As a parent, you should leave the meeting feeling happy and confident to entrust your child to the care of the camp and the director. Your child should like the camp director. Does the director bond with your child, make and keep eye contact, put your child at ease, and do they share a laugh? Has the camp director answered all the questions you both have to your satisfaction?

  1. Ask the right questions of a camp director – here are some of the “must ask questions”
    • Is the camp accredited and by whom?
    • What is the camp director’s background?
      • Experience working with children- especially children with ADHD
      • Why they work in this field
      • Differences between a camp geared for kids with ADHD and a mainstream camp
      • Tenure as a director at this camp and other summer camps
      • List of professional qualifications
      • Point of view on why their program will meet your child’s needs
      • Differences between their camp and others
    • What are the staff’s qualifications?
      • How are staff recruited including minimum qualifications, experience levels, and security screening procedures
    • What is the camper-to-cabin counselor ratio?
      • Find out the camper to cabin staff ratio, which is simply the number of campers divided by total cabin staff. You want to choose a camp with a 2:1 camper to cabin staff ratio.
    • What happens on the first day of camp and what is a typical day at camp like during the summer?
      • The best way to reduce anxiety about attending camp is to explain in detail what the first day is like. Often, something as simple as explaining how campers find their counselors on the first day, goes a long way to reducing concerns. Anything a camp director can do to explain how things work will make your son or daughter more excited about going to camp.

Summer camp is a great experience for all kids. A one-of-a-kind opportunity to grow, have fun and make new friends. When you find the right overnight camp for your child, we promise you will see huge growth in social skills, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-control and independence that often last a lifetime.

About the authors:

Rob Deman and Donna Segal are co-directors of Camp Kennebec, a kids with ADHD and other special needs, overnight summer camp located between Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario. Together they have more than 40 years of camp experience. Both bring a wealth of knowledge and hands on experience and have a shared vision that camp must be a fun, happy place that offers one-of-a-kind experiences and a huge sense of accomplishment that kids will cherish for years to come. For more information about Camp Kennebec, visit www.campkennebec.com, email Donna or Rob at info@campkennebec.com or call us at (613) 335-2114.

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