What Makes a Special Needs Camp Special?

There are literally thousands of summer camps across America and everyone of them is wonderfully unique. Even if two camps are owned by the same company they will be very different and that means no one ever has the exact same camp experience. Whilst there are thousands of camps, there are only five main types of camp and when you fill out a Camp America application you will have to select what types of camp you are willing to work at. Here are the five main types of summer campNorthwood 2016 (490):

  1. Mainstream Co-ed
  2. Single Sex
  3. Religious
  4. Underprivileged
  5. Special Educational Needs

These types of camp can then branch off into a wide variety of specialist camps such as specific sports camps (e.g. soccer camp, gymnastics camp), performing arts camps (e.g. violin camp, drama camp). On top of this, camps can span different periods of time; ‘day camps’ see campers visit during daytime and then go home at night to return the next day. Alternatively, ‘sleep away’ camps see campers stay days or weeks at a time sleeping in traditional dormitory style cabins under the supervision of counsellors.

Whilst any kind of childcare experience will be enough to get you a place on the Camp America programme, some religious and special ed camps will look for applicants to have specific experience within their respective field. It’s important for you to be super honest when you select what types of camp you are willing to work at as you don’t want to end up doing anything you aren’t comfortable doing.

Also, remember that whilst there are many different types of camps, they are all doing the same thing; letting children have a fun and enjoyable summer and no matter what camp you get placed at you will also have an incredible time.

That said, and rather biasedly I admit; I totally recommend special educational needs camps if you think you are up for the increased challenges that come with working with an incredible population of children.


The camp I have worked at for the last three summers is a co-ed (boys and girls) special educational needs camp, which I specifically choose to work at after meeting some of the staff at the Camp America Recruitment Fair in London. When I applied I had about a years’ worth of volunteering experience from a local community club that ran two hours every Tuesday and provided sporting opportunities to children who were excluded from other local sports clubs due to their additional needs. It was very rewarding work and I was excited to find out I could do similar work in America through the Camp America programme.

My camp is a sleep away camp that lasts 7 weeks and focuses on improving social skills, self-esteem and independence for children aged 8-18 with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders and similar conditions that make it hard for the child to make and keep friends. This camp runs all the fun types of activities that would be seen at a mainstream camp but there is extra emphasis on encouraging the three key aims of social skills, self-esteem and independence.

I love working at my camp, it really is an incredible place and I couldn’t imagine going to work at any other type of camp. So here is a quick list of what I think are the top benefits of choosing to work at a special ed camp:

  1. More staff – Due to the increased needs of the children, most special ed camps have a much higher counsellor to camper ratio. My camp has a 1:2 ratio which means for every one member of staff there are only two children. Mainstream camp ratios can get as high as 1:30! Cabin group sizes are also much smaller with my largest cabin having eight campers and there are only around 120 campers in total making it a very small camp compared to mainstream camps which can have several hundred.
  2. More time off – More counsellors on site means much more time off than mainstream camps, sure the time spent working can be tougher but you benefit greatly from the extra spare time!
  3. More friends, more fun! – The higher staff ratios mean you inevitably spend way more time making friends with other counsellors and this means you have way more fun in your spare time going swimming, for ice cream or partying.
  4. More rewarding (personally) – The smaller size of the groups means you really get to know your campers and create strong bonds with them which means it’s super awesome when you see them succeed and progress.
  5. More rewarding ($$$) – The nature of special needs camps can make the work more stressful at times but the rewards of such work can be significant. First time camp America participants at special ed camps could earn upwards of $150 more than mainstream camp counsellors.



One thought on “What Makes a Special Needs Camp Special?

  1. Pingback: Imagine… | Camp America Dreamin'

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