Why Camp – Diabetes Education & Camping Association

Why Camp

Unlock a world of fun and learning

Living with type 1 diabetes can be hard for a child. But they’re not alone. There’s a place where diabetes doesn’t make them feel different – at camp!

Here, all kids living with diabetes can build skills to manage their condition, gain confidence and independence, feel included and safe, and find friendships and support that last a lifetime. Because every child with diabetes deserves to feel like they belong.

Why send your kids to diabetes camp? 

So, they can find:

Community where they can meet other people living with diabetes from all backgrounds, learn from their peers, and find friendships that last a lifetime

Adventures where they can have fun, learn, and build their confidence-where diabetes doesn’t have to be a barrier

Management tips and training to help set themselves up for success with diabetes in the future

Professional support from diabetes educators who can provide one-on-one teaching and care

Find a diabetes camp near you! Find A Camp.

“When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was only 6 years old and I was scared and felt very alone. Being at camp made me feel like I belonged, and not only has the experience helped me, it has also helped my friends and family understand and to help me with my diabetes.”

Kids love summer camp. Kids with diabetes are no exception. Let’s look at the benefits of diabetes camp by the numbers

According to a survey of previous camp attendees:

  • 99% of kids who went to camp were able to independently achieve at least one diabetes management skill after camp
  • 63% of campers were always or often able to solve diabetes management problems after attending camp
  • 61% of parents and caregivers stated that their campers’ confidence to interact with their peers was “above average” or “very high” by the end of camp
                  Provided by the American Diabetes Association – Camps Team
Happy camper with Type 1 Diabetes

Types of Diabetes Camps and Programs

There are numerous types of diabetes camps and program.  Click here to find one that is in your area or meets your needs.  Programs vary based on the capacity of the organization hosting them, and may include:

  • Family weekend programs
  • Teen retreats
  • Co-ed overnight camps, lasting from 4 days to over one week
  • Sibling weekends
  • Bring a family to camp
  • Sports and excursion camps
  • Day camps, primarily for the very young
  • Holiday retreats

DECA’s member camps represent a variety of organizational and ownership models:

  • Several are owned and operated by the American Diabetes Association
  • Some are run by hospitals and clinics
  • Some cover more than one state
  • Most are independent nonprofit organizations

Diabetes camps offer unique and exciting opportunities.  You can find camps that feature back-country adventures, surf and ski programs, day camps, specialized trips, family camps or “bring a friend” programs.  Many camps now offer weekend and school vacation programs so that kids don’t have to wait until summer.

“It’s the best best experience for your kids! It’s fun, educational but most of all, empowering. They are WELL taken care of and YOU need the break. Go for it!! It will be life changing!”

How do diabetes camps vary?

Some are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA).  ACA accredited camps have passed over one hundred quality standards.

Some own their site and facilities; some rent; some partner with special camps that are dedicated to many children with medical and life challenges.

Some pay or grant stipends for all or most of their counseling and activity staff.  Many rely on trained volunteers who work only for smiles, cheers and a tee shirt.

Most rely on volunteer medical staff.  A few pay stipends to key leaders such as the Dietary Coordinator, Head Nurse or summer long nursing staff.

Some deliver diabetes education in “teachable moments” and through experiential learning opportunities.  Some have classroom settings or other formal curriculum.

Length of session, location, daily schedule all vary by camp.

Check out Find A Camp, then click the links to the websites of camps that interest you to learn more!

Cost shouldn't be a barrier that stops kids from being able to go to diabetes camp

Each camp has different fees, but most of them charge fees that are much lower than their actual costs, to help camp be more affordable.

Most diabetes camps also provide financial assistance to cover some or all of the costs, depending on household income. Once a parent finds a diabetes camp they’re interested in, they can call or email the camp staff to learn more about overall cost or financial assistance. 

Please check for details for specific camps on Find A Camp.

“Going to camp was so important to me as a 7 year old, because it was my time to be independent, playful, and free. I still feel that way as a 28 year old, and it has changed the lives of everyone in my family.”

Preparing for Camp

Diabetes camp is a positive step toward independence for parents and children alike. Parents can relax knowing their children have medical oversight and are having a blast with new friends. It is important to feel comfortable with the camp you choose and to prepare your child for the experience. Call the camp and speak with the Camp Director. If you can, visit the site before the season to learn the routine, see the facility, meet staff and campers. If a visit isn’t possible, ask for a copy of the daily schedule and last year’s parent guide. Engage your child in the process by talking about activities, the packing list, and new friends! 

Some specific hints:

  • Share information honestly and openly with your camp’s leaders. They NEED to know about your child’s asthma, food allergies, anxiety, or other needs, to prepare to handle what may come up.  Surprises in behavior or medical conditions do not lead to success!
  • If your child is young, have him/her practice taking a shower.
  • Get a calendar and mark down the days until camp! It’ll be an excellent springboard for conversation with your child and you can address his or her concerns.
  • Send clothes that can take mud, rain, paint and rough-and-tumble play.
  • Keep valuables at home.
  • Prepare your child to communicate by letter or postcard, NOT by phone. Pack pre-addressed and stamped supplies. They just might write a letter to you that will become a life long keepsake.
  • Do not promise to talk to your child by phone during camp.  Do NOT send a phone to camp.

Homesickness is normal for children and even for many teens. Usually it lasts for less than 12 hours. Two tips:

  • Help your child anticipate that camp life has a different schedule than home life and different foods than at home.
  • Trust the staff to handle your child’s adjustment. If you cannot trust the leadership of a camp – diabetes camp or not – choose another camp! 

Read this excellent article: 


Questions You Should Ask of Your Child’s Camp (FAQ)

There are a few screening questions you can ask to see if a camp can meet your child’s needs.   In brief, make sure you are satisfied with the answers to the following questions:

  • Do you conduct background checks, obtain references from non-family members and interview all staff?
  • How do you train counselors and other staff to care for my child’s diabetes needs?
  • How do  you train and prepare counselors and other staff to care for my child’s emotional and physical well-being?
  • May I review your parent guide from last year?
  • What are the credentials of the camp director and medical director?
  • Is your camp ACA accredited?

Yes, all diabetes camps should be staffed with trained professionals who understand and can render expert diabetes care to youth with diabetes. 

DECA’s member camps are typically affiliated with major diabetes centers and diabetes professionals – endocrinologists, diabetes educators, mental health professionals and dietitians – who volunteer to coordinate and work at camps.  In addition, counselors, most of whom have diabetes and were campers themselves in youth, serve as role models. 

It is important for parents to look for camps who follow the American Camping Association (ACA) standards for camps, which ensures on site medical expertise of a general nature.  For diabetes care, you can ask the following questions:

  • How many CDE’s (or CDE equivalents) are there for how many children?
  • Does a licensed RD work on the nutrition and meal planning aspects of camp?
  • How are endocrinologists and general physicians involved when camp is in session?

The American Camp Association standards minimum counselor age is eighteen, and this is the guideline that DECA recommends diabetes camp follow. DECA member camps typically have counselor or leader-in-training programs for their former campers who are sixteen and seventeen, who, if they successfully complete the program, become full counselors.  It is pretty common to have counselors that range from a minimum of eighteen through their twenties.  Some camps have medical, pharmacy, dietary and nursing students as counselors.  Some camps have counselors who are adults well into their 30’s and 40’s.

Yes, many counselors know about diabetes because they have it, or have a family member with it.  All counselors, including people who live with diabetes themselves, should go through rigorous training before camp to learn accepted diabetes management practices in the camp setting.  You have every right to ask about the training that camps provide to their staff.

DECA recommends one licensed health care provided for every 8-12  campers.

Yes, depending on the camp, there are pediatric endocrinologists, endocrinologists, general pediatricians, pediatric residents and others who volunteer their time.  Ask your camp to verify.

Ensure that your camp’s staff are trained to handle camper’s emotional needs during camp.  Many camps have mental health staff available on site for special circumstances.  The most important thing is for you to share any and all concerns, behaviors or special circumstances about your child before he or she arrives at camp, so that the Camp Director, healthcare team and counselors are prepared to make the experience the best it can be for your child.  Transitions are important and pre-planning can really help!

Communication between parents and the camp varies depending on location, cell service, phone availability, mail service, etc.  The attention of camp leadership is usually on the campers and present activities.  Therefore the Camp Director is rarely sitting in an office to accept calls immediately. Check your camp’s parent guides and website for more information.  However, if you have a specific concern or need to reach the camp regarding your child, an emergency contact is always available.  If you call and leave a message about an urgent matter, you should expect your call to be returned within 2 hours.  If your child is at an adventure camp and out of cell service, emergency response has been pre-determined.  Check adventure camp materials for details.

Camp Stories

My First Day of Camp, by Katie Risch

At the age of 15, I attended my first summer at Camp EDI. I will never forget the first day of camp. As my mother drove me in, tears ran down my face because I didn’t want to participate in the experience. I was worried that the way I managed this daily disease would be criticized, but instead, I found complete acceptance. I learned a lot over the course of my three years as a camper.

Read More »

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