This summer I created and ran the first ever Camp Bennett: a Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) program for kids with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. We had 6 children (aged 3-7 years old) in the 3 week, 6 hour per day program, with families coming from San Francisco, Novato, Sacramento, Pacifica and Boston! Each child made significant physical & social gains, and they had a lot of fun. All of the families want to repeat the camp again next year.
The Camp was held at a pediatric therapy center in Burlingame (Movement Discoveries). We were so lucky to have an incredible lead OT (Joanie Hooper) who was with us 4 hours per day and teamed up with the PTs on staff at Movement Discoveries (Gina Calloni and Carrie Southgate) to come up with incredible, and fun, physical challenges for the kids. I was also truly blessed to have found Kristy Atchison, a recently licensed OT who volunteered her time in helping me set up the Camp, create the curriculum, administer the COPM assessments before and after camp (phone interview with each parent), perform therapy on the kids on some occasions, help with charting and reports, and show up early and stay late every single day of camp while she was 7 months pregnant! I could NOT have done this without her.
We started each morning with an obstacle course that matched our theme for the day (Superhero Day included a lot of flying activities, for Pirate Day the kids had to walk the plank, for Creepy Crawly Day the kids had to act like jungle explorers and navigate through various obstacles to catch bugs and avoid pitfalls). This provided opportunities for weight bearing, strengthening and overall awareness of the affected side of the body. It ended up being one of the most talked-about and fun parts of the day for staff and kids alike!
After the obstacle course, the children put on their casts, and we did ‘circle time’ with songs that required hand movements (such as ‘My Fingers Are Starting To Wiggle’ and ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’). Then we did various OT/PT activities, often pulling out 2 or 3 kids at a time to work with the OT & PT together on their goals.
Throughout the day we had art projects and other activities (including making s’mores on Camping Day, baking cookies on Pajama Party Day, planting flowers on Garden Day, and so much more!). Of course, these activities always provided ample opportunity for the kids to use their affected hand and to use both hands together.
After lunch, we took the kids on adaptive trike rides along the Bay Trail, which they LOVED. They rode to improve function of lower extremities and overall balance & coordination. Mostly they just thought it was so much fun and loved watching the airplanes take off & land at SFO, say hi to passers-by, and feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their faces!
For the final hour of each day we had classes in music, yoga, or dance/creative movement with passionate, skilled teachers who brought SO much to our program. We had some special visits from Sara the therapy dog, whom the children got to brush and pet with their affected arms/hands, and just shower her with love!
We also spent a large part of each day working on sensory strategies (crash pad, ‘rolling out’ the children, jumping, walks around the block, whatever worked for each child). And as important at the physical goals and outcomes were, we put a great emphasis on friendships and social skills. It was such a joy for these children to be around other kids just like them, so that they did not have to explain or apologize for the way they did things. When they faced challenges, they were really in it together. By the end of the Camp, the kids had truly bonded and were very sad to leave each other.
We ran a Parent Program each afternoon, which consisted of a discussion of what we were working on at Camp with lots of photographic examples of the activities we were working on. This gave the parents a chance to share the successes and changes they were seeing in their kids each day, and to ask questions and learn more about advocacy, services, and more. We also had guest speakers come in and talk to the parents about: Feldenkrais, Interactive Metronome Therapy, Kinesiotape, as well as a presentation on “How to Talk to Kids About Disabilities.” The parents also had a private 2-hour IEP training with Sonia Valenzuela from Support for Families.
We were lucky to have many incredible volunteers, some of whom are already licensed OTs or PTs, to help out through the day. We always had one-to-one support for each of the six children. One adult would help children through each activity at whatever level they needed the help. The volunteers were all quite moved by what they saw in the kids, in terms of the amount of effort and determination they put into every task or struggle they faced, and they really celebrated the successes of each child.
Summer camp is a valuable experience for all children who benefit from a positive, structured environment. The objective of this therapeutic camp was to provide fun-filled activities while enhancing each child’s identity as well as their social, communication, fine motor, and gross motor skills. We succeeded in all of our goals for the camp: a wonderful sense of community and belonging was established among the kids, and I would say it was a life-changing experience for us all.
If you donated: YOU ROCK!
Thank you for supporting Camp Bennett! The Camp was a huge success.
We raised enough money this year to fund: 2 partial scholarships, 2 cast scholarships, 3 enrichment classes (yoga, dance, music), all of our supplies and we have seed money for next year’s Camp. We really appreciate your support and your belief in our efforts