As summer approaches, the promise of having fun outside becomes more real by the minute. Whether that is at home or away at summer camp, children should be well-versed when it comes it being safe when outside.
According to Debbie Kroupa, director of Girl Experience at Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio in Macedonia; Konner Lashley, program director of Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills; and Lauren Schmidt, camps and school program director at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Shaker Heights, outdoor safety is a big part of camp culture, ensuring campers are safe during various camp activities.
“Not only is camp a great time to make new friends but it is also a great time to learn,” Lashley said. “We want to prepare campers so they feel safe and confident when they head out the door.”
Schmidt said, “Safety is an important part of any camp setting. Whether inside or out hiking, part of making camp enjoyable for children is assuring them that the adults leading their camp have procedures in place to keep them safe. For a primarily outdoors camp, it is important to have procedures in place as there can be unpredictable situations.”
There are plenty of reasons outdoor safety is important, but Kroupa said a big part of it is mitigating injuries.
“We believe that the health and safety of our campers is a vital part of their camp experience and will have an immediate and lasting impact on their time at camp,” she explained. “Injuries or illness can send a camper home early, ruin a camp experience and sometimes discourage a camper from returning to camp or engaging in the outdoors in the future.”
At Girl Scouts camps, Kroupa said campers are encouraged to take risks but it can be difficult to determine if the risk is appropriate. Campers also earn outdoor badges for activities like hiking and rock climbing, directly enforcing safe outdoor practices.
“By teaching and practicing strict safety guidelines, we provide an example for campers to help them make decisions as they explore the outdoors on their own, with their friends or with their troop,” she noted. “We teach outdoor safety through modeling it by staff, and by using learning opportunities.”
Schmidt said camp leadership at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes is constantly teaching children to be aware of their surroundings and to respect nature. They explain things like why bees sting, what poison ivy looks like, how some things outside can be harmful and how to coexist among natural organisms.
“All of these things are things we teach our campers,” she said. “Of course, it’s also important to set clear boundaries when exploring outside as well. These boundaries change with age and each individual child’s abilities but also help ensure that they are not only being safe but respecting the space they are in as well.”
At Hiram House Camp, Lashley said outdoor safety is a priority every day at camp.
“This can be when groups take breaks to get water or when making sure to apply sunscreen,” he noted. “To best teach about outdoor safety, we break down our camper groups by age. This then helps so the counselors and instructors are able to use verbiage and examples that would be best for that small group. Some other lessons we have shared with our campers about outdoor safety include pioneering, orienteering, plant identification and survival.”
During the offseason, the professionals said parents have a key role in continuing education for outdoor safety. By continuing to place importance on safety, parents are also preparing children for the coming summer.
“It’s important for parents to continue at home,” Schmidt said. “The more children are safely exposed to different situations, the more confident children will be when presented with them whether later at camp or in another situation.”
Kroupa added, “Parents can be a safety net for mistakes that can cause injury or harm while allowing campers to figure out what they need and learning on their own – which is vital to their development.”