Felice Rosan was not worried about her son Ben’s academic performance. Ben, 11, diagnosed with ADHD, is a bright kid. Perhaps he wasn’t reaching his full potential in school, but he was doing well enough. Felice, who lives in the New York metropolitan area, worried more about him socially. Several summers ago, she enrolled him in a local day camp, where Ben was unhappy. So last year, she started looking into other summer options.
Halfway across the country, in Elkhart, Indiana, Vlado Vranjes’s son Kristian, now 13, also had social challenges. He had gone to the local Boys Club summer camp. “Some days Kristian did well, but other days he didn’t,” said Vlado.
“Kristian lacked the social skills to sort out peer problems on his own. I wanted him to go where the staff had lots of experience working with children who were socially challenged.”
Lori Stipp, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, felt that her son Nathan, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, would benefit by getting away from home. Nathan, 14, had faced lots of social challenges in school, where other kids picked on him — a serious concern for his family. When one of Nathan’s classmates raved about a summer sea camp he had attended, Lori thought that her son might also enjoy it.
Here are the boys’ stories — summer camp helped each one.
Kids (and Parents) Camp Out
Incentives to make good choices are part of the NYU Summer Program for Kids (aboutourkids.org), in New Rochelle, New York. Ben attended its seven-week therapeutic summer program for 7- to 11-year-olds. The program uses state-of-the-art clinical interventions to help kids learn self-control and improve social interactions, according to Dr. Karen Fleiss, the camp’s director.
“With a staff-to-student ratio of just about 1:1, we are able to track students individually,” says Fleiss. “We see what gets them into trouble, and we identify specific skills they need to work on. We create a daily report card to help a child receive the coaching he or she needs. Their efforts are reinforced in a variety of ways, including public recognition, special privileges, tangible incentives, and participation in special Friday field trips.”
“Ben loves the field trips!” says Rosan. “They drive go-carts, go to the movies, and have fun.” The NYU Summer Program includes parent training and coordination with families. Rosan calls it “camp for the child, plus therapy for the whole family.” Not only do NYU counselors work with campers’ doctors to verify that medications and treatments are right, they also work to coordinate with families to extend the progress that each child makes into the coming year.
“The NYU camp was a huge help in making Ben feel good about himself,” says Rosan. “They also teach kids basic things, such as making sure to compliment your friends and how to give positive reinforcement to themselves and others.”
Surf and Turf—and Independence
For the past two summers, Nathan has attended Catalina for Sea Camp (cimi.org/catalinaseacamp.html), on Catalina Island, off the coast of California. Each summer he hated to come home. The camp offers a stimulating program of age-appropriate sea activities — diving, sailing, marine science, snorkeling, kayaking, board sailing, and adventure courses.
“Nathan loved the water sports, particularly the snorkeling and sailing,” says Stipp. “He also enjoyed the seafood cookery class on the beach, where kids get to prepare a lot of different foods. But his favorite activities were the small group hikes.”
Though Nathan had many good camp experiences, one of his favorites was hiking to the top of a small mountain last year. “The kids slept under the stars, and it was very foggy when they woke up. A group of foxes had congregated at their campsite and lapped up all of the kids’ hot chocolate! Nathan thought that was one of the greatest adventures he had ever had.”
Camp might seem like fun and games to Nathan, but his mother knows that he has gained a stronger sense of identity while practicing his social skills. At home, he is more independent, taking on more responsibility.
Says Stipp: “Each summer, after Nathan comes back, we do a family reset. He’s been off at camp, gaining confidence, managing his own affairs, and figuring out how to keep track of his stuff. Each year, when he returns, we need to give him more autonomy.” Nathan’s dream? To be a counselor at the Catalina camp one day.
Responsibility and Connection
Responsibility is the main theme at Camp Buckskin in Isabella, Minnesota, where Kristian enrolled. Don’t tell that to Kristian, though. For him, the highlights of attending Camp Buckskin (campbuckskin.com) are archery, riflery, and the outdoor activities.
“What I notice most is how relaxed Kristian is when he gets home,” says Vlado. “During the year, it’s a challenge for him to manage himself in busy and unstructured environments. After a stint at Camp Buckskin, he isn’t as anxious or uptight. The outdoor curriculum is therapeutic for him.” Camp Buckskin fosters the “New 3Rs — Responsibility, Resourcefulness, and Resilience,” in addition to Reading, Writing, and ’Rithmetic. In a structured environment, Camp Buckskin helps campers understand how to make the right choices, both academically and socially.
“My son does well when he gets positive feedback,” says Vlado. “Camp Buckskin’s program has incentives to encourage the kids to want to do better. The counselors have worked with socially challenged children for many years, and know how to connect with them.”
Unlike the NYU Summer program, Camp Buckskin does not have a parent program component, but at the end of camp, it sends home a camper’s Goal Report to explain how well each child did in achieving goals he set at the beginning. “I share Kristian’s report with his teachers at school and anyone who works with him through the school year,” notes Vlado.
All three boys — Ben, Nathan, and Kristian — have improved their social skills, made friends, gained confidence, and blossomed in supportive camp environments. Their parents are thrilled, and all of the moms and dads want to pass along a message: “The right camp can change your son’s or daughter’s life.”