Discovery Day Camp Makes Summer Camp a Reality for Visually Impaired Youth
Summer is just around the corner. For many, the season brings vivid childhood memories to mind — riding your bike to the park, hanging out with friends, baseball games, ice cream cones, water parks, family vacations, and that summer rite of passage – camp! They replay in our minds like a summer highlights reel.
Summer looks very different for the thousands of children in Southern Nevada who suffer from vision difficulty – their visual acuity ranging from difficulty seeing even when wearing corrective lenses to complete blindness. For these children, summer can be an isolating time. Most activities require some adaptation for the blind, and not every place is prepared to offer that. However one local organization, the nonprofit Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation (NBCF), is changing that through its Discovery Day Camp.
NBCF offers the only American Camping Association-accredited day camp in Nevada specifically designed for the special needs of blind and low vision children. With the support of camp counselors – some visually impaired as well – Discovery Day Camp attendees get to participate in traditional day camp activities and start their own highlight reel.
“At its heart, Discovery Day Camp is about providing opportunities,” explains NBCF Executive Director Emily Smith. “Through field trips and hands-on learning experiences, our campers gain confidence in their abilities and independent living skills. We also weave in educational components, but if you ask the campers, they’ll tell you they’re just having a great time.”
NBCF’s Discovery Day Camp incorporates five key areas into programming. They include literacy, math, socialization, orientation and mobility, and independence with an array of adapted learning activities like Math Bingo, Minute-to-Win-It challenges, human foosball, and beep archery and beep ball. The latter two activities use different frequencies of buzzing or beeping to allow children with visual impairments to play by auditory processing.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected benefits of Discovery Day Camp has been its effect on the southern Nevada community. With more people gaining an understanding about the needs of the visually impaired they can see how, sometimes, simple things can make a big difference for them.
Each week, campers participate in at least two field trips to local businesses for hands-on exploration, learning, volunteer service, and fun. Kids have pet dolphins at The Mirage’s Secret Garden, made bag lunches for homeless teens, touched a crocodile’s skull at The Shark Reef, made pizzas at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and played beep baseball with the Las Vegas 51s.
“Sometimes, when we first reach out to a company for a field trip, there’s a certain level of hesitation around adapting their services for our kids; in most cases, they’re just nervous because they’ve never done or even thought about it before,” says Smith. “But that hesitation quickly turns to creative excitement as they work with our team to figure out how to make the most out of the opportunity. For example, the staff at the Boulder City Train Museum adapted the exhibits to provide a more hands-on and interactive experience for our kids. It was such a hit with the kids, the museum team decided to keep the new hands-on approach for their regular school field trips.
“We’re fortunate to have some great partners and are excited to expand our camp program again this year through a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to provide The Braille Enrichment for Learning & Literacy (BELL) Academy to campers in southern Nevada,” adds Smith. “Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are Braille readers and just 10 percent of blind children are learning it. There’s a direct link between literacy, graduation rates, and unemployment, and we are committed to changing all three. We wouldn’t stand for this if we were talking about literacy rates among our sighted students.”
The BELL Academy is a week-long day camp that offers a more intensive reading program to prepare blind and low-vision children for success in school and in life by increasing Braille literacy and independent living skills. The BELL Academy utilizes NFB curriculum, along with adult mentors who are also blind or visually impaired, in order to build campers’ literacy skills through Braille instruction and hands-on learning activities, all in a traditional day-camp setting.
Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation’s camp sessions are designed for kids, kindergarten through 8th grade, and run June 4 – 22, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. for just $50 per week. The cost includes field trips, lunch, and extended care before and after camp. Scholarships are available based on financial need to ensure no child is turned away.
To register for camp, volunteer, donate, or partner with NBCF, visit www.nvblindchildren.org or call 702-735-6223.