Give Pause For Patience

Staff members must be aware that they are acting on behalf of individual campers, so should continually ask for feedback and guidance. For example, in an arts and craft class, in creating a picture frame made of sticks, twine, and other items collected in the


woods, the easiest thing for a counselor to do is to grab four sticks similar in size and shape, tie the twine around them, stick some flowers on the frame, and send it home with the camper. But that isn’t the camper’s craft; it’s the counselor’s. Even if the staff member painstakingly chose the sticks, and used only the prettiest flowers—it’s still something the counselor has done for the camper, not with the camper.

Here the counselor has an opportunity to give the camper ownership of the craft. The camper can be escorted over to the pile of sticks and asked how many he or she would like to use, and which ones. In my camper’s case, I would tell him I’m going to start counting, and ask him to communicate “yes” when I got to the number of sticks the camper would like to use.  Then I would start pointing to the sticks until he or she said “yes” to the desired ones. I would do the same for the flowers, acorns, leaves, and any other materials that were available.

The process may take much longer than if I had merely chosen the materials myself, but empowering campers and respecting their opinions is completely worth the extra time and effort.

In Personal Care

Maintaining independence for campers with disabilities is crucial, so staff members must look for these opportunities.

Once again, patience plays a large role in the camper experience. When getting ready for the day in the morning or for bed in the evening, a camper should do as much as possible on his or her own. Ask a camper’s parents or caregivers about a routine at drop-off, and then ask the camper, “What do you usually do at home?” If the camper changes clothes or even chooses pajamas without assistance, allow that choice to continue at camp, too. Once again, it may take more time, and you may have to stay nearby to offer an arm to lean on if the camper is unsteady. Perhaps you go to bed a little later because the camper has to stop and rest a few times on the way to the sink house to brush his or her teeth. But knowing you are reinforcing valuable life skills and encouraging independence and confidence is completely worth it.

So go ahead and build that ramp on the front of the building. Just make sure it’s there not only to get campers from point A to point B, but also to represent a new camp culture and belief system because removing intellectual and behavioral barriers is crucial to camper development and acceptance. This really is the most important step in creating an accessible experience for all campers.

Patti Sampson is the camp director of Easter Seals Nova Scotia, Camp Tidnish for children, youth, and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities in Amherst, Nova   Scotia. Reach her at

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