Necessity is the Mother of Invention: The Food Allergy Friendly Backyard Camp

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Finding allergy friendly summertime activities can be a challenge for our family.  Up until this summer, my daughter had been happy to attend a few classes here and there, but this year she wanted to attend camp.   She doesn’t feel comfortable at most camps, and frankly neither do I,  due to a lack of training and the glut of allergenic foods present.  The fact that she needs to be accompanied by an adult trained in the use of an Epipen and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, leaves us with few to no options for summer camp.  Just last week, I attended lacrosse camp with her each day because the coach wasn’t trained.  We wanted to attend Camp TAG (a camp sponsored by FAAN that specifically caters to children with food allergies and their siblings).  Unfortunately, the week that Camp TAG was taking place conflicted with a family vacation.  My daughter was teary-eyed and extremely disappointed when I broke the news to her.

Not wanting her allergies to be an obstacle to her attending camp, we sat at the kitchen table and devised a plan.

“Well, maybe there is a way we can do our own food allergy camp,”  I offered.  “Maybe we could get a group of food allergy families together and each parent could host one day of camp.  We could have the camp in our backyards and make the camp allergy friendly. “

“Yeah!”  she replied with her 7-year old zeal, “We could have Caroline and Conor there, and Maddie and Michael and the other Maddie and …”  She could not contain her excitement as we started to list all of the families we thought would be interested. Thankfully, I am surrounded by the most supportive and creative group of parents I know.  When I pitched the idea, they were just as enthusiastic as we were, and so….the Backyard Camp was born.

Doing the camp in our own backyards serves multiple purposes.  One, we have a place (or places, as the case may be) to host the camp.  Two, we have trained adults present. (Personally, I feel more comfortable leaving my child with a parent that has first-hand knowledge and experience dealing with food allergies than I do anyone else. )  Most importantly, the camp is filled with caring children that either have their own food allergies or have a sibling with food allergies.  No explanations are needed about why a food can’t be served or why everyone must wash their hands.

Our camp is going on this week.  Each family has contributed great ideas on ways to make the camp fun and safe for everyone.  There are children from the ages of 3 – 12 years attending.  The older girls have deemed themselves “junior camp counselors” complete with matching uniforms (jerseys from their lacrosse team).

We have chosen to run our camp from 9am-11:30am each day.   Each parent hosts a different day so the children only have one day with their own parent.  The campers pack their own snacks from a preapproved list of foods that are safe for everyone.  At  11:30, the parents return with a packed lunch and all the families eat lunch together.  On Friday, we are meeting at the beach with packed lunches for a family day.  So far, it has been a wonderful experience!

How to start your own Backyard Camp:

  • Identify a small group of families that would like to participate
  • Find a week that works for everyone
  • Choose a day for each parent to host (It’s not a bad idea to have more than one adult present. I like a 5 to 1 ratio of children to adults.  The older children can help out as junior camp counselors.)
  • Set up some ground rules that work for everyone (Parent to child ratio, what foods, if any, will be allowed, hand-washing, acceptable activities, safe craft materials, who will host, what children will need to bring each day, etc…)
  • Create a master list of camp participants (names, ages, allergies, emergency contact info)
  • Make sure everyone is trained and that the medicine is kept within reach (and out of the sun) at all times
  • Make sure the host knows the Food Allergy Action Plan for each child
  • HAVE FUN!!

Stay tuned….we will post ideas for camp activities later this week as well as reviews from our backyard campers.

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