Create a Sensory-Friendly Camp

More and more, camps adapt their programs to include all children. In particular, a sensory-friendly camp helps help children with sensory sensitivities. Oftentimes, sensory-friendly changes are low cost. Above all, these solutions make camps more accessible.

Why is creating a sensory-friendly camp so important? All children may experience sensory sensitivity. Some more, some less. However, different diagnoses increase the likelihood of having sensory sensitivities. For instance, this includes: anxiety, autism, ADHD, hearing loss, etc. Sensitivity occurs in any one of your 8 different senses. Moreover, it can also occur in a combination of senses. A child can be sensitive to both noise and light. Therefore, it is important to consider various elements of a camp to prevent sensory overload. This includes your camp’s program design. Such as how you structure and schedule your activities. Similarly, it also includes your camp’s physical environment. So, what the space is like.

Two girls sitting on grass drawing on paper.

Your camp’s program design involves aspects of what you will be doing at your camp. This includes the structure of the camp, the staff and daily activities. Are you a day camp or an overnight camp? Do you hire seasonal, returning or permanent staff? Do you have a similar daily schedule? Does it rotate? How much does it change.

On the other hand, the physical environment of the camp focuses on the features of the outdoor space. Furthermore, it also includes the indoor space.

Below are 8 simple tips for a sensory-friendly summer camp.

An infographic describing 8 strategies to create a sensory-friendly camp.

1. Limit the number of campers

Loud noise is a common contributor to sensory overload. Large groups of children, especially strangers, can cause your campers with sensitivities to feel anxious. Reduce the number of campers signed up per session. Alternatively, divide your campers into smaller groups. Even a small reduction in the number of campers together at one time, in one space, makes a sensory-friendly camp experience. This is especially important in the dining hall, for example. Consider eating meals in shifts. Think about taking turns at campfires.

Alternatively, offer special weeks at your camp for children with sensory sensitivities. As an added benefit, campers can enjoy camp with other children who feel the same.

2. Share the daily schedule

Camps have a daily schedule of activities. Ensure the daily routine is shared will all campers. Share it in easy ways to be understood. Show it. Tell it. Make a list. Have like a cartoon strip. That helps your campers know what to expect. This will reduce their anxiety about the “unknowns” of their day.

In fact, post your schedule before the beginning of the camp. Let parents know. They can then review the calendar with their child. Encourage parents to talk with their children about camp. Suggest they review the daily schedule. Help children understand what to expect.

3. Provide an indoor and outdoor space

Outdoor activities encourage gross motor play. Most importantly, they are a good way for children to release their energy. This gives children the opportunity to explore their senses and different environments.

However, it is equally important to have an indoor area as well. You might think summer camp is meant to be spent outside. The outdoors is very sensory-rich. It might become overwhelming. Create an indoor, controlled space. Let campers have a place to relax. And to find some quiet time.

Make efforts to ensure your facility is wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair accessibility helps everyone. Not just campers who use wheelchairs. Many children struggle with motor skills. Physical accessibility helps them too. An accessible camp is an inclusive camp.

4. Adjust lighting and sound

Choose an indoor space where lighting and sound can be adjusted. Bright and flashing lights cause sensory overload. For example, fluorescent lights in a gymnasium are very irritating. Especially so for campers with sensory sensitivities. Pick as space where there are no flickering lights.

Turn off all loud noises and equipment. For example, many camps take place in schools over the summer. Or during school holidays. Many of these schools have recess bells that make sounds periodically. Turn off loud sounds like this to prevent sensory overload. Also, avoid very noisy equipment or toys.

5. Sensory-friendly toolbox

Another suggestion is to create your own camp sensory-friendly toolbox. Include things like sunglasses, noise-cancelling earmuffs and sensory-friendly toys. These devices will help prevent sensory overload.

6. Sensory-friendly activities

Sensory-friendly activities are fun for all campers. They include both gross-motor and fine-motor play. Additionally, these type of activities can promote team work and communication. Furthermore, these activities help children develop social skills.

Examples of sensory-friendly gross-motor play include:

  • Tug-of-war.
  • Water play: think big like a lake and small like a water table, too!
  • Colouring with chalk. On pavement. On construction paper. Even on outdoor siding (test that a spray of water will wash it off)
  • Organized sports. Think of team games. Think of individual games too.

However, if planning water activities in a pool or lake for example, ensure proper safety precautions.

You can learn more about sensory-friendly swimming.

Examples of sensory-friendly fine-motor play include:

  • Finger painting. Finger paint with food too.
  • Arts and crafts.
  • Playing with homemade sand, putty, “snow”, or play-doh.

Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support provides a list of sensory-friendly games and activities. Most of these suggestions require minimal equipment.

7. Create quiet zones

An important feature of a sensory-friendly camp is quiet zones. These are areas for children to sit and relax. Most importantly, they are silent spaces away from larger groups of children. Within these zones, provide weighted lap pads and sensory-friendly toys. Noise-reducing ear-muffs also help.

8. Provide additional staff training

Lastly, it is beneficial to have staff working at the camp complete additional training. They will develop the skills to work with children with sensory challenges. Furthermore, it ensures that your team knows how to support a camper with sensory-sensitivity.

In conclusion, adopting any of these tips create a more sensory-friendly camp. Improve the accessibility of your camp to all children.

Do you host special holidays “off season” at your camp? Maybe your camp is run during one of these holidays? Get more ideas below

Camp staff, you can let parents know what to pack for their sensory-friendly camper, too! Additionally, consider checking out research highlighting the benefits of attending camps for children with autism.

Do you have a facility or center? Then read: Make your Sport or Recreation Center Sensory-Friendly.

Maybe you also offer an after-school program? This blog post will help, too: How to Create a Sensory-Friendly After-School Program.

In conclusion, have a happy, sensory-friendly camp experience!

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