Specialty camps a great way to explore specific interests

By Bette Bussel

American Camp Association, New England

Camp programs are typically designed with a target group in mind. For certain groups, knowledge of how to serve that particular population makes or breaks the camp experience; and it can be the difference between getting to go to summer camp and having to miss out.

From serving campers who desire or require a specialized camp setting (a medical or developmental special need, a passion, aptitude, interest and skill level in a particular program area, or those who share a certain religion or lifestyle — there are camps out there that employ staff members with knowledge, training and expertise in the specialty area.

These camps are located in all kinds of surroundings — rural, suburban and urban. And they are owned and operated by non-profit organizations, independent individuals or families, religious and cultural organizations, and an array of other organized groups. Each is a community where the specialty or the special population is such a focus, the entire camp experience is organized around it! The specialty is at the heart of the camp community and the camp exists because of the specialty.
  • Camps for Special Populations — Because everyone deserves the opportunity to experience a summer at camp, there are many camps in the region which are equipped to serve people with special needs. Sometimes these campers can be mainstreamed at camp as they are at school, and sometimes camps are solely dedicated to serving campers with particular needs and challenges.

    Medical conditions like cancer and diabetes; developmental issues such as autism and down syndrome; social/emotional challenges like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or grief (particularly the loss of a parent); and physical/mobility challenges, like cerebral palsy and spina bifida are only some of the special needs which.

    There are some general camps for children with special needs that serve several different populations simultaneously, while there are others that offer sessions dedicated to one special need at a time.

  • Specialty Camps — Some children have an interest or passion and an emerging aptitude and skill level in a particular program area. The fine and performing arts, computers, sports, and adventure tripping (white water rafting, hiking, biking, and the like) are some popular types of specialty camp.

    Specialty camp can be a great way to explore and further a specialized interest in a community of like-minded adults and children who just love the interest area. While there are many ways to provide specialized programming — living, breathing, eating, sleeping the sport, art, adventure or other specialty is certainly the most common approach. There are two primary models of this sort of camp, a specialty camp which is single focus and a specialty session within a camp that might have other areas of focus. The specialty is almost always reflected in the name of the camp itself or the name of the program.

    When choosing a camp like this, find out how the day is structured. What activities, if any don't involve the area of specialty? Staff should know all about the area of specialty and the teaching approach should be well-articulated in the camp's print and online information. But what do these specialists know about camp and about child development?

    Expertise in the specialty area is critical; knowledge about creating camp communities and about child development should be a priority also.

  • Family Camp — These camp environments or sessions are focused on fostering family connections. Whether at a dedicated family camp, where the camp offers family sessions all summer long or at the family camp sessions that happen at the end of the season at traditional children's camps, most often after the campers leave and before Labor Day and fall arrive, the programming has been designed with the entire family in mind.

    The schedule (including family time versus individual time), the program offerings, and the entire vibe of the experience happen because special attention is paid to fostering family experiences and adventures. That doesn't mean that families don't bond with other families — they certainly do. And then they try to return to camp at the same time in subsequent summers. What it does mean is that families can expect to bond and grow with their own family members.

  • Religiously-Affiliated Camp — If you are looking for a camp with a particular religious focus, you'll find different types of religious specialty camp options. Some are more observant than others; and many are open to campers outside the religion. Some have services that campers attend while others might be more informal in the practice of the religion.

    Camps in this category do an excellent job of outlining their philosophies so families can explore how the camp experience might enhance the religious education a child already receives.
It's possible to search for any of the aforementioned camps by using the Find A Camp tool at www.ACANewEngland.org/findacamp/index.htm.

For more information, visit www.ACANewEngland.org or call (781) 541-6080. Find us also at www.www.Facebook.com/ACANewEngland.

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