Around F.C.

Local Programs Aim to Give Children With Special Needs a Camp Experience

Although the concept of a “camp” is a place offering simple group accommodations and organized recreation or instruction, these programs can mean much more to children who may find it difficult to participate in the physical activities a camp provides or the social aspect of it as well. 

In the City of Falls Church and surrounding areas, there are camps that are specifically aimed at children and young adults with special needs. These camps allow those who may have physical or intellectual limitations a way to experience what makes a camp so fun and impactful for children their age. 

LCF Kids is a children’s gym located in the Little City that focuses on skills such as gross and fine motor skills, motor planning, dynamic and static balancing, visual spatial awareness and more. Founded in 2011, the main goal of LCF is to create an environment for children with special needs that provides them with a space where they can practice both physical exercise and motor/social skills. 

LCF also provides a variety of camps throughout the summer, spring and winter, such as the “Get Moving Get Social” therapeutic summer camp that incorporates movement, self-esteem building and social skills through the use of team sports. 

Ricardo Cunningham, the founder of LCF Kids,  said the camps and programs the gym provides are mostly geared toward children with physical or intellectual challenges to work on their motor and social skills. However, a participating child can bring a sibling along who may not have special needs so that the child can interact with someone they are more comfortable around. 

Programs such as Speech of Cake’s helps children with physical and cognitive challenges be able to experience a “camp” setting. (Photo: Courtney Overton)

This can also create the opportunity for other participating special needs children to experience playing and interacting with others who may not be like them, and vice versa. 

“We are a very big advocate for inclusiveness,” Cunningham said. “We figure if the special needs kid can work with the typical kids, it will make our [camps] better.” 

The camps provided by LCF also give families an option to send their child to a more local environment, compared to other programs that may be at further locations. According to Cunningham, the camps and programs only take place at their Falls Church location, due to the organization having various activities such as a rock wall, trampoline, and interactive/balance games that help a child physically and cognitively.  

“Most of the equipment at the gym is designed to work on motor and cognitive skills naturally without the child even being aware,” Cunningham said. 

An example would be the rock wall at the gym, which Cunningham said allows children to practice their physical skills by moving their arms, legs, toes and fingers, as well as their cognitive skills by having to plan whether they want to go up, down, left or right. 

The mindset behind these camps is to provide a way for a child to be able to participate in activities outside of the gym, such as going to school and playing on a playground. According to Cunningham, if a child can participate in the camps/programs offered by LCF and improve on their motor and cognitive skills, they have a better chance in taking those lessons into the outside world. 

In Alexandria, Speech of Cake, Inc. provides help in personalized pediatric speech, language, literacy and orofacial myofunctional programs. This summer, the organization will be providing two different camps in June and July that will help children with special needs. The first camp in June will be for children in third to fifth grade, focusing on literacy skills. The second camp will be for children entering kindergarten through second grade, which will focus on the instruction for articulation — like how to pronounce a sound. 

Courtney Overton, the owner and founder of Speech of Cake, said she and her fellow co-founder Leigh Poole saw a need to introduce a summer enrichment program for students who “didn’t necessarily” qualify for special education services after both being former Fairfax County Public School teachers. 

The camps and programs provided by Speech of Cake admit all “different types of students with different disabilities,” due to Overton and Poole’s belief that “inclusion is very important” due to some children needing help with various instruction, such as articulation or literacy. 

“We believe that all students have strengths,” Overton said. “We want to highlight that and make sure that each student is also getting what they need.” 

Overton stated that every year, the camps and programs keep growing and “getting bigger and better” due to ideas coming from the staff and the guardians of the children who participate. She further said that there are not many camps like what Speech of Cake offers in Alexandria, and based on the results recorded from hosting their past programs, it has been “stunning” to see the progress of children learning how to read and overcome language difficulties, she said. 

“We want everyone in the entire company to be able to do what we do in terms of educating [the children] and understanding the latest and greatest research.”