Each summer, hundreds of thousands of children and youth go to summer camp. As anyone working in youth development or therapeutic recreation will tell you, the best thing you can ever do for your child is to send them to camp. It’s an amazing & magical time spent with other kids & teens, forming long-lasting friendships; gaining independence; developing new skills & interests; discovering the wonders of nature; and having A LOT of fun!As the experts at camps.ca state: “Camp provides a safe environment where kids can establish their independence and get a taste of what it’s like to do things on their own.” Camps provide the place to discover freedom, friendship, variety, nature, new interests and future opportunities for success.
For children and teens with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus, there are a variety of summer experiences to choose from, plus leadership development programs for young adults and even summer holiday getaways for those over the age of 25. Additional information and resources are included at the end of this article.
Focusing on traditional children’s summer camps within Ontario there are several fully supportive, specialized programs, as well as many integrated, mainstream camps – each offering a variety of staff & medical support and levels of accessibility. Or, in the case of Camp Awakening, a unique program which offers the best of both worlds as an integrated outdoor recreation experience designed specifically for youth with physical disabilities.
Camp Awakening welcomes campers between 9-18 years of age and operates out of two traditional summer camps – Kilcoo Camp for boys and Camp Oconto for girls. Camp Awakening is just one cabin group in summer camps of more than 200 people! Campers enjoy wilderness adventures through a vibrant canoe-tripping program and numerous in-camp activities such as swimming, sailing, kayaking, land sports, climbing towers, horseback riding, archery, drama and arts & crafts. Activities are tackled at each camper’s own pace and level of ability with enthusiastic support from trained staff.
“Camp Awakening was so amazing and the best experience of my teenage years,” says the now 28-year-old Liz Chornenki. “It was a life-changing experience.”
“When I got to camp, it was even better than I had imagined. There was something about being in a group of girls who were just like me- strong, happy, independent girls who happened to have disabilities. We could all rely on each other, and there was always someone to talk to about how to deal with things related to our disabilities- from teasing at school, to driving and picking out universities!”
Liz, who has spina bifida, said she didn’t feel that way at school where she was the only student with a physical disability. Someone was always putting up roadblocks, telling her she couldn’t do one thing or another because she needed crutches and a wheelchair.
At camp, everything from horseback riding to rock climbing, canoeing and portaging were hers to discover. And she did.
“Camp was a huge learning experience for me, as I know it is for many other kids and teens. I learned how to be self-reliant and independent, and how to ask for help when I did need it. I learned how to get along in a pretty diverse group of people- different personalities, abilities, and life experiences. This has served me well in adulthood- I know exactly what I am capable of, and am rarely afraid to “just go for it” when there is something I want to do.”
“Inside the cabin was an opportunity to be with those who understood disabilities and outside we were integrated into an able bodied camp — we were campers like everyone else,” she says.
“I think the most important thing I learned at camp was that I could do anything.”
Parents, do you still need convincing? Ask yourself if you feel that taking turns is a skill? What about working as a team? Camp is a place where these soft skills and so many others are “practiced” every day, but usually in ways that campers don’t even realize.
If that’s not enough, researchers at the University of Waterloo and the Canadian Camping Association have recently completed work proving that camp is beneficial to youth development helping children to build stronger social networks and grow in terms of personal development and self-confidence. Camps also help promote and encourage healthy active lifestyles and change how campers relate to the environment and their impact on it.
So, let’s get ready for camp this summer!
*Some of Liz’s quotes are part of an article which appeared in the May 28, 2012 issue of The Toronto Star. Re-printed with permission.
Camp Awakening (9-18 years)
Youth Leadership Development (19-24 years)
Ontario Camps Association
Our Kids Go To Camp
Summer Camp Research Project
Summer Holiday Program for Adults
Written by Tracy Morley, Executive Director, Camp Awakening
and Liz Chornenki, Camp Awakening Alumni