Specialized camps for kids with health problems help make summer, summer

By Julia Asselstine
Summertime and the living is easy —George Gershwin

Canoeing, swimming, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, singing songs of summer and well, overall joy, joy, joy. This is what summer camp should be all about. But for some kids trying to fit into the mainstream camp, “joy” isn’t a term they would necessarily use. Being a bit different can make for a long week, or more. Not fitting in, let’s face it, is plain hard.

So, enter the camps designed specifically for children and teens with health challenges. One such camp is “Camp Kids on the Move.” The brainchild of Dr. Sarah Campillo, a Montreal Children’s Hospital pediatric rheumatologist, Camp Kids on the Move started in 2004 for kids and teenagers with juvenile arthritis and rheumatological diseases. As a child Dr. Campillo went to a similar camp in the United States. She too had juvenile arthritis and she credits the camp for giving her the courage to pursue whatever she wanted to. Including being a doctor.

“I felt less isolated being with a bunch of other people like me,” says Dr. Campillo. “We did everything a regular camp would do but I fit in and I felt comfortable and I made lasting, close relationships. And this camp taught me that when you have a goal there are many ways to reach that goal.”

MCH affiliated summer camps for kids who just want to have fun, fit in, and maybe take with them a lifelong lesson:

Camp Carowanis
  • Health challenge: diabetes
  • Location: St-Agathe on the lake
  • Activities include: outdoor camping activities such as boating, tennis, canoeing, and basketball. Older kids (14-15) go on a 2 night, 3-day canoe trip, all while taking their insulin and checking their blood sugar levels. A nurse accompanies each trip.
  • Sessions: three sessions of 2 weeks overnight
  • Required age: at least 8 and not yet 17 by July 1
  • Medical supervision: doctors, residents, nurses, nursing students
  • What kids gain from this camp: If they have never given their own insulin dose before they learn how to; kids establish lasting relationships; and they relearn diabetic techniques, including nutrition.

Le Bel Agneau Therapeutic Farm Camp

  • Health challenge: autism
  • Location: West Bolton
  • Activities include: care for animals, learn how to shepherd sheep, hiking, arts and crafts and bonfires. Behaviour and social skills and how to be independent are worked on.
  • Sessions: 1 session, 5-day overnight
  • Required age: 14 to 16
  • Medical supervision: 2 therapists, zoo therapist, teacher and a shadow teacher 
  • What kids gain from this camp: Often this is a child’s first time away from home so they learn some independence, they learn about nature, and they learn how to be with other youth

CHIP for Teens 

  • Health challenge: weight / type 2 diabetes
  • Location: Montreal
  • Activities include: Specialized fitness programs geared for teens, a variety of non-competitive sports at the McGill University Sports Complex, field trips around Montreal, weekly sessions with a psychologist and dietician. Hands-on cooking classes focus on nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Session: 7 weeks, 3 days/week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Required age: 11 to 17
  • Medical supervision: physicians, dieticians, psychologists and exercise physiologists
  • What kids gain from this camp: CHIP for Teens is designed to address the needs of overweight teenagers through a specific combination of health and lifestyle activities. Once the individual needs of each teenager are determined, a customized summer program is designed. Each teenager’s progress is monitored and they are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to lose weight, eat healthier and improve their health.  

Camp Kids on the Move

  • Health challenge: juvenile arthritis, lupus, dermatomyositis and scleroderma
  • Location: Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez in Lanaudière
  • Activities include: regular summer camp activities such as cooking, canoeing, basketball, bonfires, arts and crafts
  • Sessions: 1 session, 6-day overnight
  • Required age: 8-16 years
  • Medical supervision: nurses, rheumatologists, residents, physio- and occupational therapists, social workers
  • What kids gain from this camp: These young people have the chance to develop special ties with other youth living with the same difficulties and they get to explore camp life in a very comfortable and accepting environment.