Consider these three concepts when implementing camp safety measures to help avoid injuries and illness among your youth programs.
The closer summer gets, the more parents will be searching for youth programs, summer camps and other opportunities to replace school and keep kiddos active. As a youth program organizer, you likely started planning details of your upcoming camps early in the year.
While there are many areas of planning to undertake, among them is the importance of camp safety. Camps are meant to be fun, engaging and entertaining - but how much is too much? Fatigue can lead to increased occurrence of injury and illness, according to a Healthy Camp Study by the American Camp Association, and illness can also affect injury rates. This means while it’s important to think about things like fall prevention, it’s good to also understand a wider array of proactive steps to help create camp safety.
Here’s an example:
Cora is an 8-year-old planning to attend multiple youth programs this summer, including her first time away from home at a week-long camp. Actually, the summer has booked quite quickly; she has multiple day programs the week before she leaves. She’s a busy girl!
All this activity really tires Cora out. As she starts to think about her first week away, she gets nervous and struggles to get enough sleep at night. Her days are still filled with many other activities planned, and in the evenings, she is just wiped.
The Monday morning that she leaves, she complains about feeling under the weather, but her parents shrug it off as nerves and encourage her to be brave and enjoy the week. She has trouble sleeping her first night of camp, with it being her first night away. On Monday, she’s very tired yet trying to participate with the other kids. During a running game, she trips on the uneven terrain outside.
Now she’s struggling to get back on her feet, and she might have actually sprained her ankle. She heads to the camp nurse to figure out what happened.
Balance busy with breaktime
Fatigue can contribute to both injury and illness, as overtired people are more susceptible to illness or apt to make a clumsy mistake. Review your camp schedules and ensure that there is enough downtime between activities to avoid burnout. If it’s an overnight camp, make sure your sleep schedule allows adequate rest time for everyone. If someone is feeling tired even despite these precautions, where and how can you allow them personal rest?
It’s also important to consider the weather and the adequate activity level. On hot days, be aware of the signs of heat-related illness and be sure to take steps to help avoid this, such as:
- Frequent hydration: Regular access to water with intentional drinking breaks.
- Use of sunscreen: Protect your skin from overexposure.
- Proper clothing: Lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
- Adjust the pace of events: If a particular day is overly hot, or especially during heat advisories, have a plan in place to pivot your schedule and accommodate the weather.
Encourage Kids to Come Prepared
This starts with communication! Be sure families know the appropriate clothing kids should wear for the activities planned. Proper shoes - generally closed-toed - will help prevent a lot of slips, trips and injuries to ankles, feet and toes. Appropriate clothing can also protect the skin and prevent cuts, scrapes or other similar injuries.
If your campers will be participating in any activities that require additional protective equipment, be sure to have this available in the proper fit for all kids. Whether this is something like horseback riding or a more simple adventure/challenge program. About 50% of injury accidents at camps occurred when the proper equipment wasn’t used, according to the American Camp Association.
Pay attention also to the terrain and any trip or fall hazards in the area. Clear away debris from trails or any spaces to be used, fill potholes and tend to other potential hazards. If your youth program will involve any campfire activities, make sure that area is safe and also incorporate education on camp safety tips around the campfire for your kids.
Help Prevent illness to also help prevent injury
Ongoing reminders about proper hygiene, such as covering your mouth and washing your hands, are important to keep campers healthy and performing at their physical bests. Be sure everyone has easy access to soap and sinks, and that these handwashing stations are visited and hand washing is encouraged before eating anything. Providing the right supplies for adequate personal hygiene is important. Also consider hand sanitizer access and disinfectant supplies and protocol for highly used areas.
Engage kids in learning about proper hygiene practices as part of the activities of your youth programs, with playful games or songs that remind them about taking these steps. Remind kids to let an adult know when they are not feeling well and have a plan for getting a child isolated and potentially picked up by a parent when the illness is going to impact the camp safety.
Also, give some thought to whether your camp will require vaccination history information, and understand the risk not having that requirement in place can create. Measles is one illness that has gone up and down in cases over the last decade; it is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal for young children. In 2019, there were a startling 1,282 cases; in 2018, there had been 375 (source: Centers for Disease Control). Read more at the American Camp Associations resource for measles page.
Back to Cora …
A camp counselor helps Cora to the nurse, where she rests while the nurse checks her over. The ankle isn’t sprained, but Cora does need to rest so as to avoid causing more severe injury. The nurse provides a cozy blanket and space for Cora to rest quietly, and she gets caught up on some much-needed sleep during this afternoon nap. She wakes up and tests out walking - no big deal! The nurse helps her to the cafeteria where she enjoys dinner and then engages in quiet, low-key activities the rest of the evening. That night, she sleeps great - and is back to full on play for the rest of the week.
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