Children have had anything but a normal childhood over the past 14 months. Isolation and stay-at-home measures have worn on adults, and may have taken an even larger toll on our children.
However, there is good news. As the weather is finally heating up and the first official day of summer is just around the corner, many places around Westchester County are beginning to feel a hint of normalcy. As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more readily available and even proven safe for children starting at 12 years old, life is starting to return to normal.
As regular activities begin to resume your children may be asking one question: can they attend summer camps this year?
Many summer camps, especially ones that focus on outdoor activities, have already announced that they are opening for this summer. Not only does that give kids the opportunity to get out of the house and see their friends, it may have significant mental health benefits.
“Children of all ages have suffered dramatically this year—being isolated from their peers.
I think having a ‘normal’ experience interacting with peers and being allowed to play and be free will be extremely beneficial for their mental health,” said Dr. Lauren Adler, MD, the Pediatric Lead Physician at Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health. “Getting out of the house, seeing friends, playing with peers and in some cases, being without masks, will give children a sense of normalcy and freedom that they did not have this past year.”
That said, going completely maskless this summer may not be completely possible. While children 12 years and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and camps are opening, there are still some safety measures that parents can expect at camps.
Most overnight camps will require campers and staffers to be tested for COVID-19 prior to coming to camp, and some may require additional testing if the camp lasts longer than one week. Ideally, camps are also asking parents to keep their children socially distanced leading up to attendance. As long as everyone at the camp tests negative for COVID-19, many camps in the area are allowing maskless interaction throughout the camp.
While this return to a normal summer lifestyle will certainly be beneficial for your child’s mental health, it will also help get them back to a more active lifestyle.
“Children have definitely been more sedentary. Being in camp will allow them to get regular exercise—swimming, sports, running around, using the playground,” Dr. Adler said. “In addition, being home all day has allowed children to have ongoing access to food and snacks. We have definitely seen a rise in obesity and excessive weight gain due to the pandemic. Being in camp all day, or all summer for those going to sleep-away camp will break this cycle.”
In general, summer camp is a great experience for children, whether in the midst of a pandemic or not. Now more than ever, kids need to get out and away from home. Attending a camp allows children to make new friends and try new activities they may not typically be exposed to, all while providing them with a much-needed mental health boost after a year in isolation.
Dr. Adler notes that, while measures are in place, it is important for parents to educate themselves on what specific COVID-19 safety measures camps are using. Will they need a temperature check every day? Will there be a health survey they need to fill out before putting their child on the bus to day camp each day? Is their camp mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are eligible? Will there be social distancing and masking? These are some of the questions Dr. Adler would ask prior to sending a child off to camp.
For more information on the Westchester Health pediatric team, visit westchesterhealth.com/pediatrics or contact Dr. Adler at (914) 666-4742.