a woman with a horse in one hand and a bear in a kayak in the other hand. Behind her are some rustic cabins and pine trees.

Choosing Summer Activities for Kids With Asthma and Allergies

Seriously, I'm wondering how it is already March! And, though here in Winnipeg we face the possibility of massive snowstorms through April on some occasions, Summer is right around the corner! If you’re a parent, though, it’s likely this is the time of year the camp brochures and flyers start coming in (or do they just do everything by e-mail now?), and it’s time to start looking forward to summer activity planning.

Considering summer activities and asthma or allergies

Most camps and daycare centers are well-versed in asthma. However, because everyone’s asthma is different, it’s still important to ensure activities are the right fit for your kid—and their asthma.

For both day camps and residential camps, check out the activity list to see if there are any concerns (and yes, your kid hating everything is a valid concern!). Requesting the daily schedule in advance may help you see other areas that may or may not work for your kid. Activity lists, usually available on program websites, will offer some good clues if an activity site itself is going to be asthma and allergy-friendly for your kid’s individual brand of atopy (or lack-there-of).

For instance, if your kid has a horse or hay allergy, well, it’s probably not best to send them to horse camp (duh), but depending on the severity of their allergy, a camp with horses at all may be off the table as campers track horsehair around all over the place.

For any camp, finding out about medical staff on-site is important. For overnight camps especially, you’ll want to find out how they approach monitoring asthma during the time your child is at camp, too. And of course, ask about camp policies about if your child is able to self-carry their inhalers and epinephrine injectors, if their counselor or group leader will carry them, or if they must be stored with the nurse.

Day camp: A great way to ease-in to camp activities

Day camps and daycare centers (which often have schedules just as packed as camps!) may be less unpredictable environment-wise than full-on camps. Additionally, they may offer many of the same activities—and often for much lower cost, though you may still have to make lunch. This can be a good way to ease into camp or to see how kids with asthma or allergies respond to packed days of activities.

Special interest camps

For instance, I attended a day camp for many years at a university. We had a climbing wall, swimming a few times during the week, time for indoor and outdoor games and sports... and this was in the context of a “special interest” camp (of which I did a “Law & Order” camp, a technology camp (including engineering, architecture, and robotics), a food camp of some sort, and a leadership camp over the years).

Sport-related camps

For those more sporty (AKA not me now nor in childhood), sports camps are options. You can often find ones that are partly or entirely indoors if environmental allergies are an issue—or, if like me, you agree with the premise humans invented indoors so we could avoid outdoors.

Other day camps

Day camps often offer most of the same activities of camp but may be missing some key activities your kid might notice, so find out what your kid's camp must-haves are. While my university day camp had rock climbing (usually) once a session, it certainly did not have a zip-line. And, when I accompanied a camper as a support worker a couple of summers ago to the same camp, the “archery” involved cheap department-store bows, not real ones like other programs have. So if you send a kid who really just wants to go kayaking to a (day) camp with no kayak in sight, that may just put a damper on their whole darn week—the last thing you want on Friday afternoon!

Though all staff should be trained in first aid and CPR, while most overnight camps have a nurse, this can vary for day camps and may impact your decision. Larger day camps (such as the one I mentioned on a university campus) are more likely to employ a nurse, which may have bearing on your choice.

Expertise in community: ask around!

It’s likely that your child has friends or classmates who have asthma. Ask their parents about where has worked for their child. Even without asthma in the picture, parents will have strong views on different camp experiences—and often for good reason.

It is important to go with instinct. I attended overnight as a one-to-one support worker with a teenage camper one year and her mom had previously had some reservations about it.

The camp was not bad, but I was able to report back that her gut feeling was right. For her particular kids, they needed a camp experience with less flexibility and freedom than the one she’d selected. The parent chose a different camp for one of her daughters the next summer.

Weighing the options

Of course, you should never let your child’s asthma make the decision for you entirely. Ensure the camp is both of interest to your child AND has a reasonable level of medical support and a good environment.

Read the brochures (if they exist!), check out the websites and YouTube channels, and take a drive out to see the camp and meet the staff yourself, if you can. Everything you learn will be helpful in informing the decision to help your kid have the best summer yet—and with any luck, with minimal impact of asthma and allergies.

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