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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. 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. It is likely important for the camper to have everything they need to have a fun and sensory-friendly experience.
Read on to learn tips about ways camping is important and what aspects of changes will make camping fun and sensory-friendly.
Why should a child go to camp?
Many parents hesitate to send their children to camp. Did you know that there are many developmental and social benefits of camp? For example, the research “Examining the Impact of a Multi-Sport Camp for Girls Ages 8–11 With Autism Spectrum Disorder” by Guest et al., (2017) found that some of the benefits of camps for children with autism include:
- Promotes socialization
- Encourages skill development
- Adds healthy activities to daily routines
- Promotes healthy motor activity
- Boosts creativity1
Camp helps children learn new skills and create new friendships. Additionally, more summer camps offer programs that support children with sensory differences. These camps create a sensory-friendly environment. If they don’t, ask them for it!
Tips for 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 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 camping 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 for campers with sensory sensitivities. Pick a 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-canceling 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 types of activities can promote teamwork and communication. Furthermore, these activities help children develop social skills.
Examples of sensory-friendly gross-motor play include:
- Water play: think big like a lake and small like a water table, too!
- Colouring with chalk. On pavement. On construction paper. Even on the 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.
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 earmuffs 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 differences. Furthermore, it ensures that your team knows how to support a camper with sensory sensitivity.
What should you pack for a sensory-friendly camper?
There are specific things you can send with your child to make their camp experience more sensory-friendly. For instance, below are essential and low-cost items to keep your sensory-sensitive child comfortable. Turn them into a sensory-friendly camper!
1. Clothing for a sensory-friendly camper
Firstly, sensory-friendly clothing is essential for a child sensitive to touch. Sensory-friendly clothing is clothing designed for people of any age with sensory sensitivities. Many children are irritated by certain fabrics or features of standard clothing. For example, sensory-friendly clothing includes soft fabric, no tags, and stretchy waistbands, etc.
If your child is wearing uncomfortable clothing all day long, it contributes to sensory overload. It adds to sensory overload. Therefore, ensure your child is wearing sensory-friendly clothing to be comfortable at camp. Chantilly Comfort Wear has sensory-friendly clothing in all sizes.
Additionally, pack extra clothing options. Even for day camps. Oftentimes, children will get their clothes dirty and damp throughout different camp activities. Moreover, some children do not like the feeling of wet or dirty clothes. Help your child out by providing extra changes of clothing. Finally, remember extra socks and underwear too!
2. Noise-cancelling earmuffs and earplugs
Another important sensory-friendly accessory to pack is noise-canceling earmuffs. Frequently, children with sensory sensitives wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to reduce noises and sounds. This is because they are hypersensitive to sound. Therefore, background music, people talking or the sound of equipment can be very overwhelming. Think about all the noises at camp. Shouting and splashing in water, children generally having fun! Additionally, noises from animals in an outdoor environment.
If your child experiences similar sensitivities, pack earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
3. Sunglasses and hats
In addition, sunglasses are another important sensory-friendly tool. Even bright natural light like the sun can irritate children’s sensory sensitivities. Being outdoors at camp all day long can be a challenge. Furthermore, some camps may not have many shaded areas to escape the brightness all the time to keep your child comfortable. A simple solution to this is simply packing a pair of sunglasses.
4. Sensory-friendly swim goggles and cap
If your sensory-sensitive child is going swimming at camp, consider sensory-friendly swim goggles like Frogglez. Frogglez is a brand of sensory-friendly swim goggles designed for both children and adults. Most standard swim goggles are made from uncomfortable plastic material. They have straps that pull hair. Additionally, most goggles do not fit well to your face. This can be frustrating for any child. However, for children with sensory sensitivities, this can be even more irritating.
Frogglez is made from comfortable wet-suit material. Also, these goggles wrap around the top of your head with two straps to ensure they are secure and do not easily fall off. Frogglez, sensory-friendly swim goggles will encourage your child to participate in water activities while staying calm and comfy!
Hammer Head Swim Caps are also a great sensory-friendly product for swimming. The caps come in different sizes and are specially designed. They provide protection to the top of the head and are more comfortable to wear.
5. Fidget toys
Another common sensory-friendly tool to pack for your child is fidget toys. Typically, these are toys that fit into one hand and entice more than one sense. A popular type of fidget toy is handheld fidget spinners. That gives your child something to feel, see and hear. There are many different sensory-friendly fidget toy options. They help children stay engaged.
6. Weighted lap pads or blankets
Lastly, pack a weighted lap pad or blanket for your child. A weighted lap pad or blanket is often made from heavier but soft materials Additionally, these lap pads or blankets are designed to lay on a child’s lap when they feel increased levels of stress or sensory overload. The heaviness creates a soothing and calming effect to help ground and calm your child.
It is important to note that weighted lap pads should not weigh more than 5% of your child’s body weight. That is a critical safety feature. Additionally, only wear them in 20 minutes intervals. It is important to learn about the safety tips of weighted lap pads blankets before using them. You should also send instructions along to the camp.
Follow these tips and strategies to have a sensory-friendly camp experience. Have a happy, sensory-friendly camp experience!
Chantilly Comfort Wear, Frogglez Swim Goggles, and Hammer Head Swim Caps are all Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Things. Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Things recognizes products that help people manage sensory sensitivity or reduce sensory overload.
Sensory Friendly Solutions is not paid to endorse products. When we mention specific products, it is because we have tried and tested them and believe they are worthy of mention as being sensory-friendly.
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- Guest, L., Balogh, R., Dogra, S., & Lloyd, M. (2017b). Examining the Impact of a Multi-Sport Camp for Girls Ages 8–11 With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 51(2), 109–126. https://doi.org/10.18666/trj-2017-v51-i2-7383