If you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or have a kid who does, you might have heard about diabetes camps before. Usually organized by non-profit associations, they center their activities, crafts, and workshops around diabetes management. But diabetes camps are not about diabetes only: they're also about fun, friends, bonfires, and laughter!
Day camps, summer weeklong camps for the kids only or the entire family, Type 1 youth camps, or Type 2 diabetes boot camps: there's a camp for every diabetic. Here's a great piece of information if you're considering joining a diabetes camp next summer!
What are Diabetes Camps?
Diabetes camps offer the opportunity to share experiences with other diabetics. The first diabetes summer camp for kids opened in 1925. Since then, thousands of Type 1 children in the USA have joined and enjoyed summer camps. If most of them are organized for kids, there are also a few diabetes camps for adults.
Diabetes Summer Camps for kids
Diabetes summer camps for kids are all about bonfires, storytelling, adventures, outdoor activities, explorations, games, crafts, friends, and laughter. It's an amazing and unique opportunity for type 1 kids to enjoy holidays without their parents, while in a safe environment in which they can share experiences and feelings with peers, whether about diabetes or not.
But diabetes camps are not only about that. They bring a special focus on teaching kids diabetes management and providing them with useful tools and advice, always in a fun way. Most camps organize well-structured crafts and workshops about nutrition, diabetes management, carb-counting, physical exercise, self-discipline, and self-confidence.
All diabetes summer camps for kids have licensed doctors and nurses to oversight the medical part and take care of any medical issue. Most of the camps' counselors and staff have diabetes themselves and used to attend diabetes summer camps when they were kids! Those who don't are well-trained beforehand and know how to help kids manage diabetes.
Camp sessions for children with diabetes usually last for a week, but you can also find weekend camps. There are sessions for kids of any age between 4 and 18 years old. Activities vary depending on the camp. Depending on your kid's interests, there are camps for water sports, sailing, canoeing, or kayaking, or camps focusing on art and drama, nature, field games, horseback riding, or any other type of activities.
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Diabetes Family Camps
Diabetes Family camps are a bit different in that parents attend the camp with their children. Family camps are a great way to meet and bond with other families going through similar situations. Parents of type 1 kids can share experiences, feelings, fears, tips, and advice with other parents, while the kids can also share their own side of diabetes with the other kids.
At diabetes family camps, a special focus is usually put on activities and educational workshops around diabetes management and family communication. Parents' and children's programs are different. Some workshops are common, others are children-only or parents-only.
Parents' activities are diverse and often based on social and emotional impacts of diabetes on families, school safety, research updates, new technologies, and tips and tricks for kids' diabetes management. Children's programs usually include arts and crafts, games, and outdoor activities around the central theme of diabetes.
Family diabetes camps usually run over the weekends, but some are weeklong. Siblings and extended family members are also welcome to join.
Diabetes Day Camps
If your kid is too young, does not want to sleep away from home, or if for any other reasons, diabetes summer camp is not an option for you, you might want to explore the idea of diabetes day camp. It's pretty much the same as diabetes summer camps, but your child returns home in the evenings. It's also a cheaper alternative to summer camps, as you won't have to pay for the cost of accommodation nor dinners and breakfasts.
Diabetes Camps for Adults
Diabetes camps are not for children only! Some camps are organized for adults with diabetes. You'd be surprised about how big of an impact attending a diabetes camp can have on the psychological, physical, and well-being of adults too. Options are more limited than for kids, but there are a bunch of well-organized adventure camps for Type 1 adults, as well as boot camps for type 2 diabetics. You can find a (non-exhaustive) list of diabetes camps for adults here.
Diabetes camps often take place in beautiful places and include fun outdoor activities.
Why you should go or send your kids to diabetes summer camps
Honestly, there's a huge majority of pros when it comes to diabetes summer camps, whether for kids or adults. A 3-years study conducted by the American Diabetes Association about the impact of diabetes camps on diabetic children showed many valuable benefits of sending your kids to camps. The results clearly showed:
- 16% increase of newly diagnosed campers’ confidence to manage diabetes
- 10% increase of overall confidence to manage diabetes
- 11% increase of overall diabetes management knowledge
- 10% increase of overall ability to self-manage blood sugars
Besides these numbers, there are also indubitable self-development and life experience benefits.
Fun activities & friendship
The very first benefit of sending your child to diabetes summer camp is that he/she will have a lot of fun and create new friendships. Unfortunately, our children who live with diabetes are constantly reminded about their condition that requires 24/7 discipline and attention, and they often face worrying situations.
Spending summertime in camps around bonfires, kayaking, horseback riding, playing, laughing, and making new friends helps to forget diabetes for a while and to feel like any other kid on earth. It's crucial for long-term diabetes management and definitely helps to avoid diabetes burnout.
A medically safe camp environment
As said above, all diabetes camps have 24-hours medical staff on hand. Doctors, endocrinologists, nurses, diabetes educators, it depends, but you're guaranteed your children will be taken care of in case anything happens whether related to diabetes or not.
Diabetes camp staff are well-trained about diabetes and knows how to prevent and handle hypoglycemia in children, as well as how to check and manage blood sugars. Rest assured your kid will be completely safe while having fun.
Sharing experiences with other diabetic children
Your kid might be the only person with diabetes in his/her entourage. This situation often creates a feeling of loneliness, difference, and a lack of understanding from the other ones. Spending time at diabetes summer camp, meeting and bonding with other diabetic children, and sharing experiences is very important to help type 1 kids being more confident, feeling less lonely, and finding new motivation and inspiration to continue their battle!
Kids who attend diabetes summer camps bond with each other and share experiences
Diabetes education made fun
Diabetes summer camps are unique in that they're designed for diabetics and diabetics only. They're the perfect places to teach kids about diabetes in a fun way. Some activities (not all) will focus on diabetes educational stuff such as nutrition, carb counting, blood sugar control, etc. Kids assimilate better these types of information when they're taught during fun workshops with other kids than by their parents at home.
Improving Type 1 kids' self-confidence
Last but not least, type 1 kids who attend diabetes summer camps considerably increase their self-confidence. They learn from others, they experiment without the parents behind, they realize they’re capable of much more than they first thought, etc. All of that highly participate in diabetes management. Don’t forget that the emotional and psychological state of your kid plays a huge part in his/her fight against diabetes.
How to find the best diabetes camps for your Type 1 child
There are hundreds of diabetes summer camps for kids to choose from in the US and internationally, as well as several tools to help you choose. The most important thing is to find a camp that offers the kind of activities your child likes. Then, look at other criteria such as the cost, the duration, the localization, the staff, etc.
Look for ADA Diabetes Camps & Camps approved by ADA
The American Diabetes Association itself hosts more than 50 diabetes summer and day camps in 25 states. You can find a list on ADA’s camp finder page. Besides, ADA also approves and keeps a close eye on diabetes camps organized by other entities. If you want great peace of mind, I'd recommend you send your kids to ADA camps or camps that have been approved by ADA. It's the guarantee the staff is well-trained, the activities are diabetes-focus, and your kid's experience will be safe and fun!
The Diabetes Education and Training Association offers a worldwide Diabetes Camp Finder with hundreds of camps, including the ones hosted or approved by ADA. It’s a great tool!
Find a camp that suits your child’s interests
As said above, camps for diabetic children offer all kinds of activities. While some focus on outdoor activities, water sports, field games, or hiking, others offer more quiet programs with plenty of handicrafts, drama, or music. Be sure your child will enjoy the activities during the camp. It's key to him/her enjoying the experience, feeling comfortable, and making the most out of it.
Diabetes camp’s age groups
Naturally, camp sessions are planned according to children's groups of age. ADA's camps most common age groups are 5-9, 5-17, 6-12, 8-16, 9-13 and 14-17. Depending on your child’s maturity and confidence, he/she might feel more comfortable in a 5-9 small group than in a 5-17 larger one.
Diabetes camps’ sessions length
Again, it all depends on your kid. Is it the first time your child is leaving home? Will it be the first time he/she sleeps away from the parents? Or on the contrary, your kid is used to being away and feels comfortable with it?
For younger kids (under 8) and kids that are not used to be away from their parents, a day camp or a 2 or 3-day summer camp might be more suitable to familiarize with the environment before jumping to weeklong sessions.
How much does a diabetes camp cost?
The average cost of attending a weeklong session of diabetes summer camps is $1250, but prices can go anywhere from $500 to $5000! Fortunately, the American Diabetes Association works hard and constantly raises funds to keep camp fees as low as possible for diabetic children. Families who need financial assistance can apply for “camperships” which may cover full or partial tuition fees.
We hope this article has helped you out, and we certainly hope you or your kids will join a diabetes camp next summer! Let's share experiences here: have you ever been or send your child to diabetes summer camp? How was the experience?