Allergies, Camper Health, and Foodservice @ Camp: An overview for parents

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Allergies, Camper Health, and Foodservice @ Camp: An overview for parents

Foodservice at Camp

What comes to mind when you think about ‘camp food’? Hotdogs and marshmallows roasting over a fire? Burgers on the grill? Perhaps even brown mush on a standard-issue cafeteria tray? How do camp dining options reflect the growing number of food allergies in Children (up 50% in recent years) When looking at finding an appropriate camp for your child, it is important to know that the foodservice offerings reflect the allergen needs of your child. Does the Camp have a ServeSafe food allergen certified staff member to coordinate allergy needs and concerns?

Kid- Friendly

“Broccoli? Gross!” Sound familiar in your home? As many parents are aware, it can sometimes be difficult to get a child to try new things, and many campers struggle with sensory aversions to specific foods. However, camp should help campers take a culinary adventure and try new things by making food fun and positively reinforcing adventurous food options: even if it’s just a bite of something new! If you haven’t heard of the Rainbow Challenge, campers strive to get (and try!) more colorful foods on their plates to win the challenge. Having regular snack times to accommodate campers whose medications sometimes make it difficult to eat on a regular meal schedule is an important kid-friendly consideration.


Between basketball, gaga, archery, outdoor skills, soccer, and hot summer days, it is important that the summer program you choose has a hydration plan. This acknowledges that staying hydrated is vital for our active campers to stay happy and healthy while enjoying their summer experience. In addition to water coolers, and water bottles while out and about at their activities, what procedures are in place to make sure that kids are property hydrated at each meal. This helps with both hydration for the sake of replacing fluids, but also because many of the medications that kids take work better. Check out this research published by the NIH.


Research shows that additives in junk food have the potential to negatively impact our campers and can exacerbate pre-existing conditions, so it is important that Dining Hall staff are camp collaborators to provide numerous healthy and nutritious options for campers during the summer. Having available plums, apples, oranges, and even mangoes regularly available, along with the open salad and soup bar can help kids make better food choices. When combined with protein-rich entrees, every meal provides well balanced dining experience. Interested in a sample camp menu that models this? This sample menu provides a key variety of offerings at camp. Variety is important in every diet, as studies have shown. With deli, salad bar, buffet options, breakfast spread, fruit selections, and grill line, every camper can get a balanced and nutritious meal during their summer experience to set them up for success well beyond the walls of the dining hall.

Special Diets

Have a camper with vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, allergy-specific, or other dietary restricted diet? Be sure to communicate this with the Camp Director, Dining Hall supervisor and medical staff before enrolling in a camp to make sure that they are realistically set up for your child to be successful. Can you bring special food to accommodate dietary needs? Are there allergen alerts for common food allergens posted with all menu items? Can your child find a variety of options that meet their needs at each meal, or will specialized dietary needs lead to limited and repetitive choices? A good camp dining hall is prepared to accommodate dietary needs for all campers.

–Brian Lux and Reema Dixon

Brian is the owner/director of Camp Sequoia whose work has been presented at the World Gifted Conference. He is a licensed K-12 gifted educator dedicated to the whole person growth and support of exceptional populations. Details about his program can be found at or by phone at 610-771-0111. Reema Dixon is the associate director at Camp Sequoia and the ServSafe Allergen liaison for camp.

Support Special Olympics encourages you to help ensure the existing baseline level of federal government funding remains in tact for Special Olympics; a program that benefits the lives of countless individuals in ways that are immeasurable. Let your voice be heard now:

Click Here to Take Action!

An excerpt from a news release from

Special Olympics is a nonpartisan organization that strongly supports policies, legislation and practices that guarantee the rights, full participation, and integration of people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics recognizes the progress that has been made around the country in eliminating the stigma, stereotypes, isolation, and discrimination that people with intellectual disabilities face—most importantly around access to sport, health, and education opportunities and services.

We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID. U.S. Government funding for our education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Read full article:

Learn more about Special Olympics:

Mindfulness and Meditation at Camp

I can still recall the babbling brook and the ancient oak that provided a perfect back rest at the first camp I attended. Since then, campers (and staff) have seen a technological revolution boggles the mind. According to NASA even the now outdated iPhone 5 has 240,000 times the memory than was on Voyager I, the first human made craft to enter interstellar space. Suffice it to say, the world that campers today face is substantially different from the one of my youth. From school systems pushing digital conversation and American children (on average) having their first smart phone before age 11, perhaps there is some wisdom in Bill Gates indicating to USA Today that his children were 14 before they had that level of connectivity. What does this mean for camps?

The research supports that meaningful social skills connections happen with authentic face to face interactions and not through superficial screen time. An authentic camp experience can scaffold the opportunity for social success without a 21st century security blanket of a phone or smart device. Camp can and should be a place to develop smart and socially resilient children in a nurturing and fun environment. Mindfulness and meditation are two strategies that give children back the tools of the awesome power of quietude. Over the last several years, Camp Sequoia has intentionally incorporated mindfulness and meditation training into our staff orientation, established places and systems for our campers to be able to recapture the serenity of a babbling brook, and conscious self-reflection. These programs add to a wide array of traditional camp activities and recognize the value and importance of teaching and modeling a level of personal reflection as we empower our campers to become the best version of themselves.

Specifically, we’ve identified two meditation garden locations, a bench under a majestic pin oak and a “rustic retreat” experience that allows our campers the time to develop the naturalistic intelligence and peace that comes from meaningful interactions with nature. We’ve found that although there is oft some initial resistance to missing an Instagram post or a Facebook needs feed in our unplugged camp community, these experiences give our campers the opportunity, permission, and staff support to relax. Camper and family end of summer feedback to having these experiences has been as positive as the reviews of our STEM program or excitement about our weekly trips. We look forward to continuing these types of programs in 2019 and beyond.

–Brian Lux

Brian is the owner/director of Camp Sequoia whose work with has been presented at the World Gifted Conference, the ACA tri-states conference and numerous regional venues for parent and educators. A 20-year veteran of camping, he is a licensed K-12 gifted educator dedicated to the meaningful growth of exceptional populations. Details about his program can be found at or by phone at 610-771-0111.

Staff Ratios and staffing at Camp: Seven questions to ask

Just as schools, public and private, publish staff to student ratios, many camps provide prospective families with these numbers as an indication of supervision over the summer. When looking at these numbers it is important to keep several key questions in mind. Sometimes foodservice, maintenance, custodial and grounds keeping staff are included in these ratios, and savvy parent will delve more deeply into the numbers.

While certainly schools, or camps, count upon and value the good work of these support staff, their level of training and direct involvement in the life of your child may be different from trained education or human service professionals whose primary role is student or camper interaction. In general there are 7 basic questions to ask to determine if the staff and staffing ratio reflects the “ground truth” of who will be working with your child.

1)What staff members are included in the staffing ratio? This means, “ Do the secretaries and nurses count? What about the laundry staff or the dining hall folks?

2)Does the program use junior staff (counselors in training, junior counselors etc.) and are they reflected in the supervision ratio? Are high school students used as supervision of your child? If so, what is the supervisory structure for these junior staff?

3)What is the average staff age? While this isn’t a perfect metric, it can certainly speak to the culture of a program. If the average staff age is under 21, the camp will certainly have a different level of life experience in working with kids than if the average staff age is closer to 30.

4)Are the supervisory staff all college graduates? How many of the leadership team work with the population served by the camp in a year-round capacity as teachers, social workers, counselors etc.? Do they hold or are they pursuing advanced degrees?

5)How long is staff training? What assessments are used to determine staff mastery before your child arrives? Does this training include certification in Crisis Prevention, First Aid etc.?

6)What is the ratio of staff applicants to staff hires? This will give you an indication both the desirability to work at a given camp as well as the competitiveness of these positions.

7)Are there multiple background checks for staff (including an FBI fingerprint check) as part of the routine staffing process? Most states require background checks, but it is important to know that all due diligence is being taking to maintain a safe community. Pennsylvania, for example, requires 3 background checks including an FBI fingerprint check on all staff working with kids at camps or schools.

Each camp situation and camper population is different, but knowing the right staff questions to ask will help you make the best decision as to where your child has the greatest potential for success. The time and effort spent in building a quality-trained staff is fundamental to setting our campers up for the ability to become their best selves.

–Brian Lux, Camp Sequoia

Brian is the director of Camp Sequoia whose work with exceptional populations has been twice presented at the World Gifted Conference. He is a Crisis Prevention Instructor and licensed educator who has spent the last two decades dedicated to training superior camp staff to make meaningful and profound differences in the lives of kids. Details about his resident camp program can be found at or by email at

The Importance of Structure For Twice-Exceptional Mind

7 Strategies and Tips from Camp Sequoia

Twice-exceptional youth, those with demonstrated above average abilities with a secondary diagnosis that can serve as a social speed bump to engaging with peers effectively, can benefit from intentional structural strategies for success.

Beyond functional print, countdown reminders to transitions, and anticipatory sets, there are many ways high-functioning individuals who are carry a secondary diagnosis can benefit from an intentionally structured environment. It is important to provide this structure in a way that is both developmentally and cognitively appropriate for the student. The below strategies and tips are useful in a camp setting to maximize potential for positive outcomes.

1)Plan intentional spaces. Campers succeed if they have spaces where they can blend social growth with time for reflection. Age specific lounge spaces for campers in climate-controlled environments are wonderful counterpoints to having roommate interactions. Spaces that work regardless of weather are a huge asset to this population. An indoor pool, for example, means that there will not be a unexpected schedule interruption due to inclement weather. Similar principals work in a home and school environment.

2)Offer limited, but meaningful choices. Developmentally, having too many choices can be an overwhelming situation, but having no choices can feel disempowering. An appropriate compromise involves giving children a limited, but desirable palette of options (with plenty of notice) for them to have input into their day. Obviously, there is a sliding scale both in terms of autonomy and flexibility of choices based upon camper age.

3)Recognize and celebrate strengths. Working with the twice-exceptional mind often means tapping into a variety of support structures in both education and the community. As a licensed educator, too often the default is to look at perceived deficits as potholes to be filled in rather than celebrating strengths and using those to build confidence and ability to steer around those potholes. Coming from a position of strength helps to build confidence and empower growth.

4)Craft teachable moments. Inquiry learning is both an art and a science. It should not be enough to have someone teach art to a twice-exceptional child. The teaching of art should be used as a tool to help build confidence, social understandings, and context specific successes.

5)Allow for minor failures. Minor adversity facilitates growth. Giving the twice-exceptional child the ability to become more confident by learning from minor failures can ultimately boost self-confidence. For example, attempting a new activity or art project that is difficult will help twice-exceptional youth learn to increase their frustration tolerance and coping skills while understanding that often the process can be as important as the product.

6)Plan intellectual growth. Getting buy in beyond 3-D printing, or conversations with the international space station, the twice-exceptional mind often has insights that can be fostered through scaffolded topical conversations. At Camp Sequoia it is not unusual to sit in on deep conversations between campers on big philosophical issues of the day with trained staff scaffolding the discourse as needed to ensure that all campers are benefitting from the experience.

7)Reflect with stakeholders. At the end of the intentional experience, it is key to reflect with stakeholders and discuss successes, failures, perceptions, and recommendations for further opportunities to be successful in the classroom and beyond during the academic year (both in school and community settings)

–Brian Lux

Brian is the director of Camp Sequoia whose work with this population has been presented at the World Gifted Conference multiple times. He is a licensed K-12 gifted educator and has spent the last several decades dedicated to the meaningful growth of exceptional populations. Details about his program can be found at or by email at

New: Therapeutic Riding

We have recently included a new category dedicated to camps offering therapeutic riding; as either one aspect of a larger diversified program, or as the principal focus of an exclusive program emphasis.

Therapeutic riding falls under the more general classification of “Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies” EAAT for individuals with special needs and may be used as a component of an integrated treatment regimen to achieve objectives related to cognitive, motor, social, or other skill improvements. Benefits include, but are not limited to: increased flexibility and range of motion, improved balance and strength, sensory, speech, confidence and self-esteem.

Instructor and equine specialist certification for various EAAT applications may be obtained for individuals through a professional association such as PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). Likewise, camps and other organizations may have earned and retained accreditation through an association such as PATH, who’s stated mission is:

“The PATH Intl. mission is to promote safety and optimal outcomes in equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.”

It is important to note: many camps dedicated to individuals with special needs may offer “horseback riding” as a general activity in various capacities, while other camps might have adopted a core program crafted exclusively with respect to therapeutic riding (and other aspects of EAAT) as their primary modality of therapy. If you are specifically seeking a camp dedicated to therapeutic riding, it is important to be aware of the broad spectrum of programs available and to inquire with respective camp directors about their camp and staff’s level of training, certification, and expertise.

If you are an owner/operator of a camp offering therapeutic riding (in any capacity) to individuals with special needs and would like to list your camp on, please click here to review listing options and to sign up now.

People First Language

What is People First Language? In a nutshell, People First Language places the person before the “disability”. PFL is a manner of communication which describes conditions an individual might happen to be experiencing as secondary to their essential being or who they are.

Given that language is a powerful tool which often shapes our perceptions with respect to social interaction, this is not a trivial distinction and is helpful in illuminating the unique, dynamic, and complex nature of any given individual vs. simply “pigeon holing” people into restrictive and narrowly defined categories which neglect to reflect the entirety of one’s being.

Maybe it might help to reflect upon that which defines the essential nature of “what it is to be you”? How do you define who you are? Do you believe it is accurate to define your existence by a single characteristic or attribute? How about several? Taken from the other extreme, can there ever be enough attributes to capture any given person’s essence?

Perhaps such philosophical questions are not conducive to navigating through our daily lives in so far as interacting with others, so we often describe ourselves as: a parent, spouse, sibling, friend, professional, artist, musician, or maybe even as someone with a special need. When we label ourselves with a single word, it would seem there is a logical omission of an infinite number of other possibilities which might be just as “accurate”, yet it would be cumbersome to relay such a dense array of information to others and still expect to carry on a conversation in a short period of time.

So, how do we practically communicate what might be pertinent information about ourselves in a manner which does not subvert the notion that we as human beings are multi-dimensional and not defined by the narrow scope which language often boxes us into?

People First Language hinges upon an imperative that an individual is a person first – who may possess various qualities and conditions as secondary characteristics. Using language in such a way mitigates compartmentalizing people into “typecasts” as being the central defining characteristic of their being.

In the case of individuals who may happen to have special needs, this can be an extremely important distinction in so far as parsing out such needs as secondary attributes vs. the primary focal point of a person’s identity.

In regard to language used on the website: we allow camp directors very wide latitude in describing the particular nature of their camp and program offerings, and almost never intervene in so far as editing content which appears on individual camp listing pages. We generally assume there to be a sufficient level of awareness by camp directors with respect to People First Language. In addition to individual camp listings on this website, we maintain a core set of information and search pages … structured to allow visitors seeking camps and camp jobs to effectively locate a suitable camp of interest. Now here’s where there might be a “point of contention”: while we would like to promote the use of People First Language and have attempted to craft verbiage accordingly, we have realized that not everyone out there searching for camps on the internet is aware of or utilizes People First Language in so far as the search terms they employ to find a camp. Consequently, we’ve found ourselves in the position of opting to still utilize terminology which isn’t necessarily in accordance with principles of People First Language … simply as a practical means of accessibility in the search engines as well as being able to assist people in at least making an initial connection with camps which serve individuals with special needs.

Hopefully, once such a visitor has established a relationship with a camp director, one will be welcomed and introduced to People First Language and adopt its manner of communication. So, we realize there’s a bit of a compromise we’re clearly making, but our hope is that by “straddling both worlds of language” we’ll help the greater community and society as a whole to evolve in so far as embracing People First Language – not necessarily just with respect to individuals with special needs.

To this end, we invite you to share your perspective and provide us with feedback. Feel free to contact us!

Welcome To Our News & Resources Section!

We’ve very recently launched a brand new section on dedicated to news, updates, and resources with respect to summer camps which serve individuals with special needs.

If you are a camper, parent, family member, guardian, caretaker:  check back in the future for particular resources which might be of beneficial use in so far as selecting a particular camp or information which might be of assistance in either preparing for or actually attending summer camp.

If you are a camp director or administrator of a special needs camp:  stay up to date on the latest developments with respect to services and offerings by  We are also open to accepting and considering informational (non-promotional) articles — across a broad range of related subject matter — you feel might be beneficial to individuals and families members who are either looking for or are currently attending a camp.  If your article is published we will provide you and your organization credit as well as a link to your camp or organization’s website to be accessible and displayed directly within the article.  In the near future, we will publish more details; however, in the meantime, if you are interesting in being a contributing writer, please contact us for more information.