Outdoor school. The two words that have caused me worry and stress since long before the school year even began. The two words I have been dreading since Kaitlyn was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

In Southern California, where we live, the sixth graders have the opportunity to go to outdoor school. It’s a weeklong camp down in Malibu where the kids get to experience living in cabins with their fellow classmates (without parents) and learn about nature. It’s a fabulous experience — one that I still remember from when I got to go as a sixth grader a million years ago. However, it’s at a camp… far from home… without me or any family… for a whole week. And there’s NO CELL SERVICE, which means no remote access to Kaitlyn’s blood sugar numbers.

As we anticipated Kaitlyn’s sixth grade year, I seriously considered planning a family trip to Hawaii that just happened to be the same week as outdoor school. I just could not imagine how Kaitlyn would be able to go. There would be a nurse there but no overnight care in the cabin where she would sleep, and she would be pretty much on her own except for checking in with the nurse a few times a day.

The more we thought about it and talked and thought about it some more, we realized how important it was for us to do whatever we could to make it work. Kaitlyn’s two older siblings had already gone to outdoor school, and they loved it. It would be a shame for Kaitlyn to miss it just because she has diabetes. I also kept thinking about all the times we have told Kaitlyn that she could do anything that anyone else could do if she put her mind to it. Diabetes is a big part of her life, but it shouldn’t be something that holds her back from accomplishing her goals. How could we, in good conscience, feed her these lines if we were not even willing to let her go to a middle school campout?

So after a great deal of worry, planning, and communicating with the nursing staff, she went. And guess what? She survived! She even had fun! It was a totally new experience for her — and for me. I wasn’t always comfortable with her level of independence, but it all worked out. She slept in a cabin with only a high school student camp counselor for supervision, but the nurses made sure her blood sugar was on the high side of her normal range before bed to avoid any lows at night. Kaitlyn got a list of the carb counts for all of her daily meals each morning, and she took care of the dosing herself. She checked in with the nurse a few times a day, and they called me each night to let me know how she was doing. But otherwise, she managed everything. They did hikes and activities all day long, and she took care of herself like a champ.

I’m really proud of her. I’m so glad she’s home, and I’m definitely not looking forward to the day that I send her off to college. But overall, I think it was a great growing experience for all of us.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.

Related topics:
Can Bears Smell Insulin?
Outdoor Education (Part 3): CGM Devices and Other Things that Go Bump in the Night
People in the Know: Backcountry Camping

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