A blue and green image with cartoon icons of trees, tents and mountains at the bottom. A wooden sign in the middle reads 'Tips for Finding Inclusive Summer Camps' and has the Inclusion Alberta logo at the bottom of it.

Tips for Finding Inclusive Summer Camps

July 11, 2022


Summer camps are a great way for all kids, including children with developmental disabilities, to enjoy their summer break! It can be a chance to have some fun, make new friends, deepen existing friendships, learn new skills, and have a break from parents. While including children with disabilities in regular summer camp can involve some extra communication and support, it gives children with disabilities access to all the positives that camp has to offer and all campers get to learn about being an inclusive, supportive community member.

How to find an inclusive summer camp:

The camps parents consider for their children without disabilities should be the same camps considered for children with disabilities. Be sure that camps that advertise themselves as inclusive are open to all children and are not only for children with disabilities. It is important to be mindful of your vision of a normative pathway for your child as you navigate what an inclusive summer camp experience means to you, and which camps are able to reflect that.

When exploring ideas for what to do over the summer, many families consider what camps their child may be interested in attending according to their gifts, strengths and interests. The same is true for children with developmental disabilities. It may be helpful to first write out what the child’s interests, skills and abilities are and use that as a guide.

A good place to start your search for camps would be to look around neighbourhood and community and talk to people you already have in your network including the parents in your child’s school community. Recreation centres, sporting organizations, community leagues, faith communities and schools often run summer camps and there might even be kids your child already knows going as well. A google search of camps in your area might turn up interesting camps at places you may have never heard of.

Research and read the reviews:

Once you’ve found a camp or two that seem like they would be a good fit, consider doing some research on the camp, and the organization running it. Some families have found it helpful to look up online reviews or ask others in their network about personal experiences with a particular camp. Things you might want to know include:

  • Did their child feel included and supported while at the camp?
  • Did they as parents feel heard if they had any concerns?
  • Was there open communication?
  • Is inclusion a part of their mandate? And if so, do they seem to ‘practice what they preach’ based on what programs they have available?

Once enough information has been gathered, the next step may be reaching out to the camp directly and creating the space to have a conversation about what could be expected from their child participating in this camp, and to help camp staff have a better understanding of how they could best include this child and support them in having a great camp experience with their peers. It may be helpful to have a friend or family member join you for this conversation, as these meetings can often feel difficult or overwhelming when you attend alone.

Share strengths and support needs with camp staff:

The ultimate goal is for your child to be naturally included as much as possible, but of course all kids need support sometimes in order to be successful. Families are the greatest resource when it comes to sharing what makes their child awesome, and what supports they might need to succeed. It’s important to think about what the summer camp staff may need to know in order to make their space as welcoming as possible for your child. Be ready to have a conversation with them about your child’s strengths and support needs and be as prepared as possible.

  • Write out some points about what works to engage your child, what doesn’t work and any things to try to avoid.
  • Share what your vision is for your child’s life (vision statement) and how attending this camp is part of that vision of an inclusive life.
  • Write out what a ‘successful’ day at camp would look like for your child, and share that with camp leaders and staff. Here’s an example:

“When John shows up to the camp, he is greeted by a few of his new friends and welcomed into the group by the leaders. The activities are modified so that he can participate in them along with his peers, and John knows that he has a valued role to contribute. John is supported by his peers to move between activities and knows he can check in with a camp counsellor when he needs to. At the end of the day, John shares with his parents what the highlights of the day were and if there were things that didn’t go well. This communication is supported by a designated camp counsellor.’

Be open to camp leaders asking questions. If they are asking about something that you feel is not relevant or does not need to be shared, it is absolutely okay to keep this information private. Perhaps consider what they might actually want or need to know. For example, are they just wanting to better understand what specifically they can do to better support your child? Is there a way to give them the information they need while still having privacy respected?

Summer camps are an opportunity for children to grow and learn, explore their interests and make lasting friendships over the summer months. Finding the right summer camp for a child with developmental disabilities to be included in involves planning and plenty of open communication but can lead to rewarding and often life-changing experiences. Community groups and organizations offering camps can make a huge difference in the lives of children (with disabilities and without!) by letting individuals and families know all are welcome.

Learn more about the possibilities of inclusive recreation.