Camp provides fun, learning for students with special needs (Thinkstock)
Camp provides fun, learning for students with special needs

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Summer is a time for fun, a time for kids to let loose and enjoy some momentary freedom. For many children, that means attending summer camp.

For children with disabilities, however, attending camp of any sort is often not a possibility. Whether it be for health reasons, behavioral issues or a financial burden placed upon the family, these kids often go without.

That's where Camp Connections comes in. It's a collaboration with Indiana University's department of speech and hearing sciences and the Monroe County Community School Corp. special education department. It allowed 24 elementary students with a variety of special needs to become campers completely free of charge from June 6 to June 16.

"This camp actually focuses on communication and language skills, which is a core deficit for a lot of our campers. So we actually build that into every activity that they have throughout the day," said Erin Peabody, a clinical assistant professor at IU and co-camp director. "It allows them to focus on what they need the most; plus, it's wrapped up in a lot of fun."

Campers play games specifically designed by speech and hearing sciences graduate students, who are also volunteering their time to help run the camp, in ways that can be modified to each camper's needs.

While one group of children may be throwing a ball in the gym to practice passing and sharing, another group is in a classroom releasing balloons into the air and practicing the words "up" and "go." Another group could be making owls out of brown paper bags, while yet another is running around the gym like cheetahs or bouncing up and down like kangaroos or crawling on all fours and belting out loud "moo" sounds.

The involvement of the department's graduate students allows the camp to have a better than 1-to-1 camper to instructor ratio, while also giving the students real-life experience. One group of graduate students helped instruct during the first week of camp, then was replaced by another group for the second week. MCCSC staff are also aiding in instruction for the duration of the camp.

Laura Karcher, coordinator of the department's Speech-Language Clinic, said adding a second week in the camp's third summer is a wonderful addition.

"In the past, it's felt like the kids were just getting settled in to a new situation and then all of a sudden camp was over," Karcher said. "Now, with a second week, campers can ease their way into it and still get the most out of the camp."

Kathleen Hugo, director of special education for MCCSC, agreed that two weeks of camp was a great idea, but for a different reason.

"Camp Connections has been a huge success. If you talk to parents, the number one request is they want more," Hugo said, adding that she had noticed great strides made by MCCSC students in just a few days of camp. Special needs children "really do require a lot of specialized assistance, but it can work for them. That's what makes this so great," Hugo said.

Mark Howard is a special education teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School, taking on some of the most significantly impaired students in the school district.

"The collaboration here with IU is a great thing," said Howard, who is volunteering his time as an instructor at the camp. "This is a really wonderful program all around."

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