Children today spend less time outdoors than any previous generation. In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of more than 800 mothers, 71 percent reported that they played outdoors more often than indoors when they were young, while only 26 percent said this is true of their kids today.
Kids 8 to 18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). All the more surprising because spending time recreating outdoors is thought to provide various emotional and physical health benefits and is thought to be a vital part of a child’s development, contributing to their quality of life and future outcomes. Children with disabilities risk even lower participation in recreational and leisure activities at home and in the community because of the added adversity they face.
It is estimated that adolescents with disabilities watch about 2.5 hours more of TV daily than kids without disabilities, taking part in fewer organized social activities with fewer contact with peers outside of school. This, however, is not true for the children participating in Higher Ground’s camp this summer, an opportunity for children with physical and cognitive disabilities to explore the Valley and get involved in the wider community through outdoor activities and recreation.
The only program of its kind in the Wood River Valley, the 10-week camp provides a unique setting for individuals who otherwise might not have the opportunity to participate in a day-camp experience. Higher Ground’s summer program is open mainly to Blaine County residents, but the group will accommodate the occasional visitor or second homeowner. The program has about 60 participants on average that are divided into four groups: Pioneer camp (ages 4-7), Boulder camp (8-12 year olds) and because of its popularity gets further split into Boulder North and Boulder South, and the Sawtooth group (over 13, most are between 20-30). Days are jam-packed with activities: swimming at the YMCA, rock climbing, paddleboarding and canoeing on the lake, whitewater rafting, tennis, soccer, mountain biking, archery, the Korean martial art Subakdo, music, art and more.
These activities provide more than just summer entertainment. They are led by recreational therapists and designed to include a social and personal achievement component, as well as activities to promote emotional and physical growth. “We focus on the recreational therapy portion of the activity we are doing,” Recreation Program Director Cara Barrett said.
Although the choice of activities to select from is endless, one way Higher Ground separates itself from other organizations is that the recreational therapists meet with parents and the child’s occupational therapist to see what specific goals they are working on in school. They then work to find activities that continue to address these specific skills and goals. This helps the kids keep focus and stay up to speed on their skills so that when school resumes in the fall, they are prepared. “So far,” Barrett says, “this has been extremely successful.”
Higher Ground’s summer camp is also coordinating activities with other local day camps to promote acceptance and create awareness within the community of people with disabilities. “When we’re doing trainings or educating people, we try to teach them person-first language, which is just putting the person before the disability. For example, ‘I’m working with a child with a disability’ or ‘I’m working with a boy with autism’ not ‘I’m working with an autistic boy,’ Barrett said.
Higher Ground recreational therapists work hard to remove barriers to active involvement in recreational activities and to design programs that enhance children’s participation.