Health,  parenting,  Travel

Dear Mom Camp Series: Five Ways to Prepare Your Special Needs Child For Camp

The June instalment of Dear Mom #muskokawoods camp series
How do you Prepare Your Special Needs Child for Camp?

Dear Mom:

Just 29 days!!!! The countdown is on.

I am going to pack my new swimsuit, sunscreen, a sketchbook, markers, shoes, a brush, no scratch that two swimsuits, Cutie, one blanket, my favourite Aeropostale sweater, one pair of jeans, seven books, underwear and a sleeping bag. 

I love you and it’s so awesome to be going with Ainsley this year!! It’s going to be amaze balls!

Love: Payton

Alright, alright. Those of you who have been following this sponsored series in partnership with Muskoka Woods know that just last month I said I did not think Ainsley was ready for overnight camp. But here’s the thing. I am ready for her to try. And the timing is right, I think.

Is it Time?

My brown eyed busy girl, the one with the highest energy level of all, who struggles with some special needs, has shown a lot of growth this year. She became a junior black belt, she landed a teacher that understood her and spoke her language(s). She perfected front crawl and grew several inches, caught several frogs, got another new baby cousin, then heartbreakingly wrote and read a eulogy for her grandmother.

It was a busy and emotional year.

Parents of all children stress over choices like these: do we send them to camp, or not?  Are they ready? Will they cry every night? Will they make friends? But parents of children with special needs agonize exponentially more than the average parental unit.

Do we ever know if our kids are ready for things before they try? Not with 100 % certainty. So, I am making a leap. I have booked both my girls to the appropriate camps and this year, at long last they will be spending a huge amount of their camp experience together. This year, they will both do Payton’s beloved Original Kids Theatre summer day camp. I have preserved this little corner of the world only for Payton until now, keeping Ainsley away because really everyone needs their own little corner of the universe where they are rockstars. 

One Week Away!

And this is the first year they are both going to overnight camp. One week away from home. One week away from Mom and Dad. One week at the Lake. And I would be a big liar if I said I was not doing a little happy dance knowing my kids are both going to camp. 

So, this is me sharing a little camp love once again. Over the past six months I have been posting, in partnership with Muskoka Woods about camp and the many things camp brings to families, to children,  to kids with special needs.

About Muskoka Woods

Last year, we went to Muskoka Woods for the weekend as part of a Mom Central Canada group. Musoka Woods Youth Resort is set on 1000 acres and 2800 feet of shoreline on Lake Rosseau.

Camp With a Difference

It’s camp with a difference for the leaders of tomorrow. This is some of the most incredible territory Ontario has to offer anyone. You don’t have to be from Ontario to know Muskoka means class, and camping and cottaging in style. But when you grow up here in Ontario, you learn fast this is the place to escape to in the summers, a place to grow, breathe, challenge yourself, your family and a place to relax, a backdrop against which so many make memories.

My Summers

I spent several summers as a child driving that endless car ride from Guelph to Barrie and up through all the way to Lake Rosseau, Lake Joseph and surrounding area. We often stayed in motels and enjoyed all the gorgeous scenery, parks and features of Muskoka. Other years we rented cottages in Southhampton, and Wasaga Beach. But Muskoka was the ultimate destination. It still is.

World Class Camp

Muskoka Woods youth resort is a world class Christian youth camp with an extremely talented staff. The camp child to counsellor ratio is one of the best in Ontario, if not Canada.

In February, I told you I was starting this Dear Mom camp series and I reminded you that camps often get scheduled and prime weeks start filling up well before March break. Good news is there are still some spots available in certain weeks and certain age groups at Muskoka Woods so book fast as school ends next week.

The Programs Offered

Muskoka Woods offers over 50 different programs the kids and parents get to pick from including arts programs, dance, water sports, skateboarding, climbing, archery, arts and crafts, Hollywood North, golf, wake boarding, paintball, basketball, BMX and horseback riding.  

Summer Camp is Awesome from Muskoka Woods on Vimeo.

Muskoka Woods

So what changed my mind? And how will I prepare my child and staff for a successful camp experience? There are a few things I do to help support both parties and build success. Here’s what you need to know to prepare your special needs child for camp.


Five things I do to help my special needs child succeed:

1. Visit the camp before she goes for the week away.

My daughter has a lot of difficulty with new things and changes in routine. She can do new experiences with scaffolding and with help. It helps her to know what to expect. (Even sensory input that is different can send her into a meltdown, so, as funny as it sounds ,even being there for the visit and seeing and smelling and hearing all the new information helps her to acclimatize. (Done. We went last year.)


2. Send her with an ALL About Me book again.

I keep promising to post examples of this ALL ABOUT ME booklet so here it is. It’s basically a brochure about your special needs child that states this is me, this is what I look like, these are my strengths and weaknesses and these are my medications and medical needs. (In revision.)

3. Take Something From Home

Make sure she has several items from home that help her to feel anchored and safe. My daughter still has a teddy bear, and a blanket. Now is not the time for me to change her routine or mess with anything else that would jeopardize the experience. She can take whatever she thinks she needs to help her feel okay and home away from home.

4. Scaffolding

Last year, was the first time ever that Payton, my socially outgoing child, indicated she was finally ready to do sleepover camp. She went with a friend from school. It was a huge hit. So successful she wanted to go back again another year.

Build on Success to Prepare your Special Needs child for camp.

So we are building on that success by embracing camp life again. Ainsley will go with her sister. That way I know she will have a familiar face if she needs one.

5. Send Some Security

I will send her with a business card tucked or sewn into her backpack. When she can see my business card and she is able to read the phone numbers she feels safe. She will also get free reign to call me as needed. I know that just telling her she can call typically helps her feel safe. I am very certain she will not call daily. (even if she did for the first ever week away I wouldn’t care.)

Muskoka Woods is world class welcoming Christian youth resort.

Camp Makes a Huge Difference

Last year, my girls were tentative on the ropes and the zip line, but they tackled the Big Swing and embraced canoeing, skateboarding, roller blading, tennis, camp crafts, swimming, games and the usual camp hikes and campfires. The cabins were big, clean and well maintained.

Our Experience

The staff was accomplished and brilliant. I hope to send my children to Muskoka Woods often. It’s a world class camp worthy of my world class kids. Hopefully you are also able to use our experience there to help you prepare your special needs child for camp.

For more information you can visit the web site or email 

How Much is Muskoka Woods?

Prices vary and are on the web site under the parents toolbar at the top of the page. The week long experience for a child ages 7-9 is called WILD and the average weekly camp is between $900 to $1100. There are also test drives for apprehensive campers or parents to test out the camp and see if the child can manage a whole week. For a test drive the campers would come for three nights and four days and the cost is $549. I highly recommend doing a test drive to help prepare your special needs child for camp.


This is the final instalment of my 2013 camp series. I have been honoured to post with Muskoka Woods over the last few months. I was compensated for this post. My opinion is all my own. Last year we visited Muskoka Woods and had an incredible weekend there. My opinion is all my own.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Bewildered Bug

    Wow, I cannot imagine having the challenges that face you daily with a special needs child, much less trying to prepare them for camp! That being said, you sound really organized and it sounds like she will have an amazing time! I can’t wait to hear all about her experience 🙂

  • Cheryl L

    Thanks for these tips. I think they’re useful for any parent sending kids off to overnight camp for the first time. I am a few years away from this stage but hoping my kids will want to try at least once.

    Muskoka Woods looks like a lovely place 🙂

  • Aeryn Lynne

    Ainsely will have a great time because her mom is prepared to make it happen! 🙂 Your five things list is sure to help other parents in the same position.

    I love this bit the most, “There are also test drives for apprehensive campers or parents to test out the camp and see if the child can manage a whole week.” I’m not sure if this was possible “back in the day”, but I have a family member who would have benefited greatly from this.

  • Little Miss Kate

    Great idea bout the all about me book, having something to look at (or show new friends) to let your child know that home is not far away always helps.
    Hope she has a wonderful time!

  • Just Married with Coupons

    This sounds like a wonderful camp for kids! Sounds like your little angel is ready to spread her wings at camp! I wish that my son could experience camp, but its just not in the cards right now. I used to go to camp every summer growing up as a girl and it’s an experience that everyone should have at least once!

  • Stephanie

    Oh as important as it is for her to be ready, I agree that you have to be ready too! I’m excited for both of you and can’t wait to hear how it goes 🙂

  • Icar

    Great activity, I wish to send my daughter to camp when she grows up.
    This is a nice one since it caters to special needs child.

  • Maya Fitzpatrick

    I can imagine what a hard decision that is, but I whole heartedly believe that you’re making the right one. Your daughter will love it, and will forever be grateful for all of the amazing memories you’re providing her by sending her to Muskoka Woods camp.

  • Maya Fitzpatrick

    I know it’s a hard decision to make, but I whole heartedly feel like it’s the right one. Your daughter will love it there and will be forever grateful to you for providing her with such an amazing opportunity. Besides, it sounds like you’re very organized and prepared. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for her to tell you all about her new friends and adventures!

  • Lyne Proulx

    Thanks for sharing. They look like they are well organized and kids have lots of fun. I spent a week at a camp as a child, and really enjoyed horse back riding and the lake. It was nice to meet new friends and keep in touch with the counselors.

  • Annie Brown

    I dream of some day my Shaylin being able to attend camp even a day camp without me by her side. I know she would enjoy it if she could only get over the anxiety of going in the first place. Your daughter sounds like she is very excited to be going to camp this year and Ainsley is going to how fun!