“Summer”- a word that conjures up joy andexcitement in our children. No more school. No more homework. No responsibilities. Day camp. Sleep-away camp. Baseball, basketball, swimming, archery, crafts…so many new activities. There is so much happiness and serenity surrounding this word….That is unless you are a child with special needs.
Camp can be a very stressful time for a child who has special needs (and for their parents!). Away from the structured institution called school, camp is meant to be unstructured, non-academic, spontaneous, competitive and social. For many of our children who are neurologically atypical, camp is a very difficult time of year because of everything that camp embodies. How can we make camp a place where all of our children are accepted?
A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity of attending the Foundation for Jewish Camp Conference in New Jersey. A big theme at the conference was the idea of inclusion. What does inclusion mean and what is a camp’s responsibility regarding this word?
We heard many speakers and had many conversations about this word. We spoke about inclusion in general population camps, self contained programs within neuro-typical camps, self contained camps and models that contained shadows etc etc. I walked away from this three day conference strongly believing that inclusion is not a one-size fits all program. It is beautiful that so many different programs now exist within varying Jewish camps because hopefully that means that one or more programs can accommodate each of our children. The conference reaffirmed my strong belief that as a community, the Jewish world must take inclusion seriously and allow each of our children their rightful place in all parts of society- school, synagogue and camp.
Camp offers a special experience for our youth. As I mentioned before, camp isn’t meant to be overly academic or overly structured. It is meant to be fun. It is meant to be a time to meet new people, try new activities and perhaps learn something new about yourself. Camp can be so powerful for every child, but especially for a child who has some labeled challenges. Camp can be a time when we as a group embrace a child, both their strengths and their weaknesses, and make them see that they are invaluable to our kehillah, community. Inclusion, however it is applied, should allow our boys and girls to feel that without them, the current community they are in is lacking. What better place to experience this than at camp!!!
To learn more about Yedidut, Camp Yavneh’s inclusion program, email me.
Click here to email Miriam