Master of Occupational Therapy students host children’s summer camps
Every summer for the last few years, the occupational therapy labs on the main campus in Radford and at Radford University Carilion (RUC) in Roanoke echo with the sound of children’s giggles, playful screams and excited chatter.
Dozens of kids, ages 3-6, participate in free, week-long summer camps led by Master of Occupational Therapy (M.O.T.) students who work with campers to build their cognitive, physical/motor, sensory and social skills while their hosts gain real-world clinical experience. Children of all abilities are invited and included in the camps’ activities.
“I had a 4 ½-year-old as my assigned camper,” said Delaney Ratliff, a second-year M.O.T. student at RUC. “I personally loved his age since it’s such a significant time for development. Having a diverse mix of ages helps us to learn how to adapt activities and make them as inclusive as possible.”
The camps, held this year in late July, were designed to provide campers with opportunities to engage in “purposeful play,” or enjoyable activities that allow children to make meaning out of their experiences. In addition, the activities give the M.O.T. students a chance to learn how they can help pediatric clients improve their life skills to increase confidence, participation and independence in life.
“I believe the biggest benefit the campers gain is social participation,” said second-year main campus MOT student Sarah Snuggs. “Getting to play and make friends with other children is a huge step in development for this age range.”
Snuggs said that communication skills are a major part of social interactions, and initiating conversations isn't always easy for kids. As an OT camp leader, Snuggs said she was able to provide encouragement to help the campers understand what those types of interactions look like.
“Kids are also hilarious when talking to a peer,” Snuggs said with a chuckle. “They aren't afraid to be themselves.”
All of the camp planning and activities in both locations are supervised by OT faculty, who provide the students with advice on the schedule of events and direction on working with the children throughout the camp.
“Each M.O.T. student is assigned a camper, and we take time to get to know who they are by meeting their caregivers before the camps begin,” said Ratliff. “As a group, we create the week-long camp schedule based on what we know about the campers. This camp is also important because not all summer camps are accepting of children with disabilities, and we absolutely welcome anyone and everyone.”
The summer camps are just as beneficial for the M.O.T. students as they are for the children, providing vital experience in working with a group of clients with diverse needs and skill levels.
“I definitely think participating in running the summer camps gave me a glimpse into life as a professional and how much work it truly is,” said Ratliff, “but also how rewarding it is when you succeed.”
Ratliff said that the camp allowed her to grow substantially in her pediatric professional development, adding that she had never had an experience like this. “I am very grateful I was given the opportunity and can take this with me now in my future practice,” she said.
Snuggs agreed that the camps were invaluable to her as an M.O.T. student.
“This camp is important for OT students because we create goals for each camper as you would in the clinical setting and watch the children progress throughout the week,” Snuggs recalled. “It’s also important to OT students to get an introduction to working with kids, so those who may not have experience with children can decide if they want to work with the pediatric population in the future.”
Snuggs said that participating in the camp opened her eyes to how much preparation goes into running an event — especially one involving children.
“Once I graduate, throughout my professional career, I will have a better understanding of not only what planning looks like, but also how to execute it properly,” she said. “Working with kids, it’s important to make sure you have backup ideas ready to meet the needs of all the children. This carries over to any population or work setting because you never know what you may need. Being prepared for all situations shows you are a professional.”
Both Ratliff and Snuggs say they would definitely participate in an experience like the summer camps again based on what they took away from the camps as well as their time spent with the kids.
“I would love to continue to be a part of opportunities that spread the word about occupational therapy and share the amazing profession that it is,” said Ratliff, “and I had a great time with the children.”
Snuggs added, “My dream is to work in a pediatric outpatient setting. I have grown up around children my whole life, and I want to be a person who sets a strong foundation for their future. Schools, churches and local communities all plan camps for kids, and I can't wait to be a part of them.”