By Jennifer Massa

Now that you've decided where your children will be attending camp this summer, it's time to think about how to best prepare them for a fun, healthy, and safe experience away from home.

From determining what to pack to obtaining a camp physical, there's a lot to consider. And it's only natural for parents and campers to have some anxiety -- especially for first-timers and those who cope with chronic health issues.

As a family nurse practitioner, I've completed hundreds of camp physicals and talked with parents and children as they prepare for summer. Here are some key recommendations and tips. Health policies and camp physicals Start by taking some time to review and understand the camp's health care policies and practices well in advance. This information should be readily available on the camp's website or in your camper's registration materials. If you can't find it, make a list of questions and call the camp staff to obtain the answers you need.

Most camps will require a physical and request medical records be submitted several weeks prior to arrival. It doesn't take a lot of time to complete this physical, yet I frequently see parents and campers who wait until the last minute and are unable to obtain an appointment with a primary care provider.

Camp physicals can be obtained from your child's pediatrician or at a walk-in retail clinic like MinuteClinic. Health care insurance providers will not cover camp and sports physicals, so be sure to inquire about the cost before you visit; prices can vary quite a bit.

A proper camp physical should include: a review of health history and immunizations, height and weight check, thorough physical exam, and a stamp or signature on exam forms. Parents should remember to bring a copy of their child's immunization records. Chronic health issues If your camper has asthma, diabetes, serious allergies, or other chronic health care concerns, there are added considerations you need to factor into your preparation.

I advise parents who have children who require daily care to contact the camp in advance to understand how medicines and preventive treatment are handled. Determine what care can be expected from the camp nurse or athletic trainer (in the case of sports camps) and what medications your child can administer on their own. This could include inhalers for asthma treatment, insulin injections, and other prescription medication.

If your child has food allergies, speak with the camp nutritionist or cook to ensure that menus are tailored to meet their dietary requirements. And if they have a peanut allergy or are allergic to insect stings, determine whether your camper can carry their own EpiPen to defend against anaphylaxis shock. Make sure that camp counselors are equipped with an extra auto-injector on site and are trained to administer care.

You should also know how the camp will notify you if your camper has an issue and where the nearest emergency facility is located. Providing home, work, and mobile phone numbers for yourself and back-up contact information for another family member is key.

Lastly, when you drop your child off at camp, meet with the appropriate staff members and go over these details one last time so there is no miscommunication about what is necessary and expected for your child's care. What to pack Begin early by putting together a camp packing list. Some of the items that I remind parents to include in their child's duffel bag are:

* Hiking boots and athletic shoes (which should be broken in advance) * Slip-resistant water shoes for showers and the pool * Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants for hikes and activities (to protect against ticks, poison ivy and the sun's rays) * Adhesive strips for cuts and blisters * Hand sanitizer or antiseptic wipes for easy cleanup * Athlete's foot medication * Lip balm * Necessary eye care items, including sunglasses, protective goggles for sports, extra contact lenses or glasses. * Sun block and insect spray are essential items and many choices exist.

For sun block, you should choose a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of UVA and UVB rays (a higher SPF, 50 for instance, only blocks an additional 1% to 2%, so it's probably not necessary). Spray options are often easier for children to apply on their own.

Insect repellent containing DEET is most effective, but some parents prefer a non-DEET herbal choice without chemicals. Repellent wipes or towelettes often work best for younger children.

As a parent, your careful planning and preparation should help to ensure an enjoyable experience for your camper, but always remember that the goal is for your child to have fun!

Jennifer Massa is a mother of eight living in Easthampton and a family nurse practitioner at MinuteClinic in West Springfield. MinuteClinic offers camp physicals at locations inside select CVS pharmacy throughout Massachusetts.