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How summer camp staff are protecting kids from extreme heat

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

And it's also been steamy in Arkansas. So we called Camille Hatcher at the Lake Nixon Summer Day camp in Little Rock. She's a nurse there. And these days she isn't just helping kids with scraped knees and bee stings but protecting them from heat.

CAMILLE HATCHER: Our camp is 100% outdoors. We encourage the idea of how can kids have fun disconnecting from their electronics, just having fun in the sun and also fun in the lake here.

PFEIFFER: So I gather it is very hot down there in Little Rock right now. How is that affecting how the camp is operating? Is it changing how you do things or what you have the kids do?

HATCHER: Yes, it has changed a few of the ways that we have run our camp. First of all, we had to educate our counselors, who are in charge of our kiddos, on things that they need to look for in their kids to be sure that they're safe with all the sun and the heat exposure. We added a few shaded areas that we didn't have previously to get out of that direct sun exposure. We've added additional times in the lake.

PFEIFFER: Oh, and they can cool down.

HATCHER: Yes. The kids can swim in deeper water and just really submerge and have a great time. We also - something big for our camp is we built an AC center just for the kids to have an area to play cards and just relax. They can even just sit and read a book in the air conditioning.

PFEIFFER: You mentioned that you've trained staffers to recognize if kids are getting overly hot, and I believe kids are generally bad at recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion, unlike adults who might. So what kind of things are you looking for that kids may not realize is a distress sign from their body?

HATCHER: One of our biggest signs is kids who are normally upbeat and having a great time and are really in it are not. They are dragging their feet and just not feeling like they want to be a part of the team. They can even be more irritable. These are all signs of a kid who is not feeling well but is not able to communicate it. They can also complain of, like, oh, my tummy hurts. I don't feel good. I want to go home. So we've just really educated our staff on how to take those things seriously and get our kids to areas where they can have some respite from the sun exposure.

PFEIFFER: And what about clothing? Are there kids you find sometimes showing up with too many clothes, or you're trying to coach them on remembering that type of material might actually keep you cooler?

HATCHER: Yeah. So I actually had a kid yesterday who showed up in a full sweatpant outfit. It was, like, "Black Panther." He was so excited to wear his new sweatpants. And I was like, listen, buddy, we - it's too hot. We can't be wearing that today. So thankfully, his mom packed him with some shorts and a tank top also.

So we got to try to keep the kids out of their even most exciting character-themed sweatpants. We want to do cooler clothing, T-shirts, shorts, tank tops. If you're ever in a scenario where you know you're going to be in the sun the whole time, do long sleeves that are, like, linen - cool, light, breezy materials. That really helps to keep the sun exposure to your skin down while also allowing the body to cool.

PFEIFFER: I have a friend who has a 7-year-old son and when she sends him to summer camp, she wants him to come home exhausted. She wants that camp to run him so he'll be tired out and sleep well.

HATCHER: Yes.

PFEIFFER: But do you think that in these really hot times, parents need to have different expectations about how worn out their kids can realistically come home at camp in hot weather?

HATCHER: So, yes, we want our kids to go home - happy, tired and dirty is our mantra here.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter).

HATCHER: But yes, we do want to be sure that they are not too wiped out. And we have sent emails to parents to be sure that they're watching out for their kid being unusually exhausted and being sure that parents at home are hydrating their kids, giving them lots of water, electrolytes, and being sure that some of their meal choices or even the lunches that their parents pack for them are appropriate for the increased heat exposure as well.

PFEIFFER: You know, for many people, outdoor camps are a rite of childhood. Summer just wouldn't be the same without them. Do you think if camps are held indoors or are lower key because of the high heat - are the kids being deprived of something?

HATCHER: Right. I do think that any time that you're indoors, you can still create the same creative space that we're trying to provide whenever kids are outdoors indoors as well. You know, engaging them in fun games that allow them to think and even to expand their imagination is really important to during the summer. So even if you're in a place where your kid can't go to camp, or they don't need to be out in the sun as much, or even in our setting, the camp needs to have more indoor time, just being around a group of friends their age group, and also having exposure to adults who want to sit down one on one, have fun with them, is still very important to their idea of having long-lasting memories.

PFEIFFER: That's Camille Hatcher, a nurse at Lake Nixon Summer Day Camp in Little Rock, Ark. Camille, thank you. And I hope you have a great summer.

HATCHER: Yes, ma'am. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Sacha Pfeiffer
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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