Category: Special Audiences

Let Your Child Grow Beyond You

by Karen Meister


As you know by now, I am a complete and firm believer in the value of the right summer camp experience.  I believe as a parent, you provide strong roots at home that represent your character and desire for your children as they enter into society.  And by sending your child to the right camp, especially when they are away for the whole summer, you are giving them the wings to confidently practice what they have been taught at home.  You are saying to your child:

“I believe in you and that you will be successful on your own.  Go and make the world a better place.  Goodbye!”

And so, I share the following story from one of my clients who was hesitant but interested in venturing into camp beyond the tried and true, beyond where the neighbor goes.  They were interested, but fearful,  in finding a place where their son could soar;  letting him go to be all that he could be.  Although it will take a few minutes to read, please read this lovely story.

I share, with the family’s permission, the story of Christian, as she has told it.

When your kid is away from home and you get an unscheduled, unexpected call from camp, your heart starts to race a bit.  ”Hello?”

“Hi, this is the Camp Director. Don’t worry, Christian is fine. Nothing has happened. Are you with your husband?”

“No, I’m out picking up school uniforms, but I can conference him in.”

“Yes, I think you should do that.”

Conference call initiated and the Camp Director said:

“In 25-30 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m still getting emotional thinking about it. As you know, we are in the middle of Color War. Christian’s age group had a big softball game this afternoon. His team is behind in overall points, but if they got a win, the softball game would be a good place to close the gap. The whole camp was there to watch.

“There’s a little boy here from China. He’s not very athletic. And the other team’s coach put him first in the lineup. And he had two strikes. I was calling the game and gave permission for the coach to come in and help him swing the bat.

“So he gets a hit. And it goes straight to Christian, who is pitching. Christian’s a heck of a ball player. I don’t need to tell you this. Simple play for him to grab the ball and toss it to first. Easy out.

“But Christian saw this kid and made a play straight from the heart. He easily fielded the ball, turned, and threw it as hard as he could into the outfield, keeping the ball in play, so the little boy could round the bases for a home run before the ball could be thrown back to the plate.

“The whole camp saw it. He never once let the little boy know he did it on purpose. So tonight, I stood up in front of the whole camp and awarded Christian the ‘Hugeness Award’ while still keeping the secret, so as not to taint the other boy’s home run. Christian is an amazing kid with a huge heart.”

After I dried my tears, I thought THIS is why summer camp is so important. It has taught my uber-competitive kid that “winning” comes in many forms. I am so grateful that we can give him this opportunity and so so so proud of him!  And so happy that I worked with Karen in finding just the perfect camp for my son to really spread his wings.

And I cried too.  Because when a child is successful, AND the parent shares, it makes my job so worthwhile.  Thank you to all who have shared with me over the years!

Karen Meisterin partnership with Joanne Paltrowitz, works with the international consulting firm, Camp Experts and Teen Summers.  Feel free to contact Karen for complimentary assistance at or 305.931.KiDS or 305.931.5437.  Thousands of families have received confidential and complimentary guidance to select the best camp and teen programs from around the world.  Karen is also the Founder of the LifeMeisters.

Special children get special camps

by Karen Meister

I often get calls from parents who start the dialogue with:  ”this is going to be a hard one for you, but I really need your help!”

They proceed to tell me about their child and how wonderful he or she is, bright, outgoing, loves animals, but….  and then there is the hesitancy and sometimes, the choked sentence follows.   He is somewhere on the spectrum and I really want him to learn to get along with others, be more independent, not get teased, just have fun….  I then follow with, “and you can use a break as well.”

And then the voice on the other end of the line goes from a bit choked up to a wash of tears.

I write today to simply say, you are not alone!  There are so many families facing similar dilemmas of loving their children with passion — because they love so many things about them, who they are and what they have accomplished.  They love their children because they are their parents and they are supposed to.  And they love them with an asterisk — I love them but I am so exhausted.

The good news is that there are so many summer opportunities that provide the right environment for children with specific requirements.  Whether it be a form of ADD or ADHD, defiant behavior, autism on all points on the spectrum, dyslexia, cancer, heart disease, peanut and tree nut allergies, crohns, diabetes or any other diagnosis on the alphabetic list of “conditions”, there is a safe, healthy environment for your child.

So the question is how to begin the process of finding just the right program?

1.  Are they/you ready for overnight camp?  As with any child, you must first determine if your child is ready to go away and/or if you believe a nudge to go away would be beneficial.  Are they able to sleep out at a friend or relatives house?  If the answer is yes, they are probably ready.  If the answer is no, you have to determine if leaving the home for a period of time is a necessary “push” required to help your child become more independent and self-reliant.

2.  Do your research.  The first step in doing your research is to be comfortable about talking openly about your specific situation and desired outcome.  You must find a reputable service to help guide you to safe, secure and appropriate programs.  Talking to other parents with similar home situations in conjunction with speaking with a camp expert is critical.  You want to talk with the director and other parents who have had children attend the different camps.  You really want to make sure that the staff to camper ratio is very small.  At least 3 to 1, and in many cases, 1 to 1 based on the circumstance of the need.  The facility needs to be safe and in good condition.

3.  Understand the camp community — special camp vs. mainstreaming.  You want to have an excellent understanding of the camp community.  Some families want their child to be in and among children with similar conditions so that they can get the therapeutic direction and assistance needed.  They don’t want their child to feel different or ostracized.  Some families want their child to be in a more mainstreamed environment so they will learn cues and behaviors from other children.  There is no one right answer, but what is right for your philosophy.

However, if your child is being mainstreamed into a traditional camp, you want to make sure the environment is welcoming.  For example, if the camp director or top staff has a special needs child, they will be empathetic to your needs and you can bet that the philosophy trickles down to the whole staff.  You can consider the opportunity for hiring a shadow counselor that can be made available to your child in order to keep the staff/camper ratio to a safe number for your child.

4.  Make sure the medical assistance is up to par.  As to meds, every camp is passing out meds to a large population of the camp.  You therefore, want to make sure that the medical staff is fully abreast of your child’s specific needs, you can package them for better administration, and be prepared for adjustments during the summer due to higher activity levels. Make sure the camp you select has a good doctor or RN on-premise.  If there is no doctor on premise, you want to make sure that a pediatrician makes regular visits to the camp and has standing orders in town to accept campers any time of day or night.  The doctor should be within 10 minutes of the camp.  And the emergency medical facility should be within 20 minutes of the camp.

5.  Programming should be varied and instructional.  When your child has specific needs, you want to make sure that they are gaining self confidence through skill building.  Whether the skills are dribbling a basketball, learning how to make a bed, or appropriate table manners, there should be a true sense of accomplishment by the end of the summer.  You want it to be identifiable, measurable, and most certainly applause-worthy upon their return.

And while your child is off to camp, learning and being successful, please make sure to give yourself some time.  Know that you have provided a fabulous opportunity and gift to your child, and you deserve the spare moments of peace and tranquility.


Karen Meisterin partnership with Joanne Paltrowitz, works with the international consulting firm, Camp Experts and Teen Summers.  Feel free to contact Karen for complimentary assistance at or 305.931.KiDS or 305.931.5437.  Thousands of families have received confidential and complimentary guidance to select the best camp and teen programs from around the world.