5 ways summer camp fosters kids’ healthy development

Horseback-riding at an Easter Seals campJune is only 10 — count them, 10 — days away! That means our respite staff and therapists are eagerly planning activities for the four summer camps we at Easter Seals Crossroads coordinate each year, and more Easter Seals staff across the country are preparing for their summer camps, too.

Summer camp is an experience for kids of all abilities as it offers ways for them to engage in relationships, build communication skills, explore and learn through problem solving, increase playing and movement – all of which are developmental milestones.


Having fun at an Easter Seals summer camp

I spoke with Claire Werner, an occupational therapist at Easter Seals Crossroads, and Joelle Samples, our respite manager who maintains two of our summer camps, to find out why summer camp is so beneficial for kids with and without special needs. They gave me 5 reasons kids of all abilities should attend summer camp:

  1. Playing: Children learn from doing. At camp, they look to their left and observe what their peer is doing. Then they look to their right and observe what another peer is doing. There is a good chance that after observing behaviors, the child will participate in them as well. Seeing behaviors exhibited by peers of their age group is important. In addition, play time often incorporates sensory experiences of seeing, touching and hearing through finger painting, gross motor playing on the playground, and water play, which is often the favorite part of our summer camps!
  2. Relationships: At CampAbility, the staff-to-child ratio is primarily one-on-one. Strong and trusting relationships are formed quickly between camp staff and children. And at our week-long Gadget Camp, all the children who attend utilize augmentative communication devices. This camp environment gives them the opportunity to see other children their age use similar devices. Children begin to build relationships with others whom they see as similar to them. Proper socialization experiences provide children with an opportunity to learn from one another and to develop important life skills and friendship bonds. Values, societal norms, and cultural guidelines are learned through a lifelong process of interacting with others.
  3. Communication: Summer camp is full of activities, field trips and time spent winding down after a long day. Communication and language skills are often the invisible benefit from a child attending camp because they are communicating all day long to their peers and camp staff. Children who utilize communication boards and augmentative communication devices learn new words associated with camp activities and begin to form a vocabulary that will stay with them for life.
  4. Exploring and Learning: Camp activities stimulate a child’s desire to explore their environment and learn through new experiences. Placing hands in shaving cream, blowing bubbles, or drawing are all ways in which children begin to learn through problem solving while utilizing their senses in different ways. Sometimes children are hesitant to participate in these experiences during daily life due to sensory processing disorders, but camp provides them with the ability to explore these things at their own pace and to participate with their peers through supports as needed by the staff.
  5. Movement: Summer camp is all about enjoying the summer weather. At our Camp ROCKS, children and young adults participate in rock climbing, basketball, horseback riding, nature hikes and other fun outdoor activities at Bradford Woods. These kids may be participating in an activity for the first time and are encouraged to do so through the support of their peers and camp staff. A favored CampAbility field trip is at Center Grove High School where children interact with football players on the field to experience physical movement in new ways.

At Easter Seals, we understand the importance of identifying developmental milestones in children before the age of 5. Summer camp is a great opportunity for children to build the foundation of important developmental skills that will stay with them for their life time. Visit the Easter Seals free Ages & Stages Questionnaire to see your child’s developmental milestone progress. And check out Easter Seals nationwide camp directory today.

Related Stories and Resources:

Hear first-hand about one young teen’s first time at summer camp.


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