For most everyone, the smell of a bonfire and waking up to nature is a treat! For kids with Type 1 diabetes, they or their parents may be reluctant to experience camp in the summertime. There is good news! There are summer camps especially designed for kids with special needs.
There are camps for diabetic kids, asthmatic, juvenile arthritis, and many other conditions that affect children. This gives them a chance to experience as normal a life as possible, not much different than other kids. This article may help calm your nerves by explaining more about summer camps designed for kids with Type 1 diabetes, what is available to care for your child while they are away, and some helpful links to get you started on your search.
Summer camps that are approved by, or follow guidelines of the American Diabetic Association can be a very safe place for your child to enjoy a week of summertime fun out in nature. Kids that attend these camps give great reviews that their week was a time to remember! The camp staff put in a full year of work prior to each summer to prepare to take care of thousands of kids with Type 1 diabetes.
As soon as the last batch of kids meet back up with their parents at the end of summer, the staff are already starting to plan for next year. It involves making sure counselors and staff are fully trained to care for diabetic kids, working out supplies to check blood sugar levels on each child, insulin syringes, and dietary needs for the camp. They also put in a lot of work getting ready for new camper registrations that will be coming in as early as winter.
It is reassuring to know that diabetic camps have a full medical staff that begin their work with each registration form submitted. The forms are reviewed by an endocrinologist, diabetes nutritionists, and other staff that are trained to work with kids who have Type 1 Diabetes. If you are looking at other camps outside of the American Diabetes Association, this is also a good question to ask. How do they plan for kids with Type 1 Diabetes?
The ADA camps begin working early in the fall and winter with suppliers to make sure they have enough lancets and syringes on hand to take care of all the campers. They also make sure they have supplies for low blood sugar rescue like; glucose tablets or injectable glucose. Not only do camp fees cover these things, but also donations. The donations may also help cover scholarships for kids who cannot afford to go to camp.
Camps use registered dieticians to go over each camper’s application, help plan meals and snacks, and make sure each child gets fed on time. It is no easy task, but each year kids are able to enjoy camp and any emergencies are handled as they come up. The dieticians, who are also diabetes educators, help train all the staff and counselors in diabetes care and emergencies. Camps also try their best to employ laypeople who have experience with a child who has Type 1 diabetes. Some teenage counselors are Type 1 diabetics themselves. This also gives the kids role models they can look up to and talk with if needed.
With this amount of care put into each child, summer camps for kids with Type 1 diabetes can help your child grow, learn more about living with diabetes, and meet peers that understand what they are going through!
A Typical Day At Camp
A typical day at a diabetes camp is managed so that management of diabetes is in the forefront, but done quickly so that it doesn’t interfere with the fun. There are several scheduled blood sugar checks throughout the day, with on-time administration of insulin and snacks. There is also 24/7 staff available if extra checks are needed or an emergency arises. Staff schedules in blood sugar checks an hour or two after kids go to sleep. Getting into a good routine at camp reinforces your routine at home and helps your child see they are not alone with this routine.
Here is an example of how a typical camp day goes:
6:00 – 6:30 A.M. – Get up and get dressed. Blood sugar checks. Insulin shot.The nurse may also give you the amount of carbs you need to eat for the day.
7:00 A.M. – Breakfast
8:00 – 8:30 A.M. – Tidy up Cabin. Make beds.
8:30 – 9:30 A.M. – Games and Activities.
9:30 – 10:00 A.M. – Snack (Carbs and Protein to maintain blood sugar)
10:00 – 11:00 A.M. – Morning hike.
11:00 – 11:30 A.M. – Diabetic classes and activities. (Learn ways to manage diabetes)
11:30 A.M. – Blood sugar checks. Insulin shots.
12:00 P.M. – Lunch
12:30 – 1:00 P.M. – All camp clean up. (Pick up trash on ground, place chairs around firepit for later, line boats up on lake shore, etc.)
1:00 – 2:00 P.M. – Nap or quiet time in cabin.
2:00 – 2:30 P.M. – Afternoon snack.
2:30 – 3:30 P.M. – Arts and Crafts
3:30 – 4:30 P.M. – Lake time, swimming, boating.
4:30 – 5:00 P.M. – Cabin time, get ready for dinner.
5:00 P.M. – Blood sugar checks. Insulin shots.
5:30 P.M. – Dinner
6:00 – 7:00 – Free time/Activity of your choice
7:00 – 8:30 P.M. – Campfire time. Songs. Stories
8:30 P.M. – Blood sugar checks. Insulin. Bedtime snacks.
9:00 P.M. – Quiet time in cabin.
10:00 P.M. – Lights out.
12:30 A.M. – Blood sugar checks
3:30 A.M. – Blood sugar checks.
The staff will adjust carbohydrates and insulin throughout the day based on your child’s needs. Your child can also see a nurse or counselor at any time they feel they need their blood checked or emergency glucose rescue. The counselors take a pack of supplies and snacks with them wherever they go i.e. hikes, swimming, activity rooms.
Finding The Right Diabetes Camp
Finding summer camps for kids with Type 1 diabetes may be a chore, but well worth finding the right one that fits your child and you. There are things you should look at for each camp and ask questions like:
1. Will there be a doctor present at camp?
2. Does the camp have a hospital close by?
3. Do I need to send my child’s testing supplies and insulin?
4. How many snacks/meals a day are offered?
5. Should I pack my child extra snacks?
6. Are all staff trained to handle diabetic emergencies?
7. Can my child receive care outside of the daily schedule?
8. How many campers to staff ratio?
9. Do they have vegetarian/gluten free options for meals?
10. Can I visit my child at camp?
You may have a list of your own questions, so sit for a minute and write down your concerns. It is always good if a camp is certified by the American Diabetes Association. However, there are many great camps out there for kids with Type 1 diabetes that run the same protocols.
A good idea would be to make a camp visit the year before you plan on going. Take your child for an afternoon if this is allowed. There are also day camps out there if your child is not ready to spend the night away from home.
Last, but not least, always check with your child’s pediatrician and endocrinologist and include the treatment team in your decision to send your child to camp. They can communicate with camp staff and physicians if needed and help with the treatment plan.
If your application is accepted, begin preparing your child for the away-from-home experience. This will help ease any worries and fears about going away from home.
Links To Summer Camps for Kids with Type 1 Diabetes
Your doctor or diabetes educator may have recommendations for summer camps for kids with Type 1 diabetes. While there are too many camps to list, here are some links to get your started:
American Diabetes Association/find a camp
Children with Diabetes/Camps for Kids with Diabetes
Lilly Camp Care Package/Scholarships