RoundTable -- First Time at Camp, A Discussion

This discussion was taken from the usenet group: rec.scouting. On June 29, 1995.

Our troop has 15 boys going to summer camp this year. They're all first-year Scouts, and their adult leaders are new, too (including me, although I'm trained). The older boys and the veteran adult leaders are going canoeing in the Boundary Waters the same week.

We're holding a meeting for the younger Scouts and their families to share information and answer questions. Given our collective inexperience with the summer camp thing, I'd very much appreciate any advice you Netters could provide as far as:

  • Important issues to raise at the meeting
  • How to set expectations about rules and behavior without appearing to be autocratic and threatening. The important thing is to *have fun*, right?
  • Problems that always seem to crop up that we should be ready for
  • Any general advice for leading a troop at summer camp.

Thanks in advance.

- Joe Rossmeissl, Troop 34, Madison, Wisc.

1: Have a hand out containing the recommended equipment that each Scout, and Scouter should bring. If your camp provides one, use it. If not, ask Scouters who have been to that camp for advise. Make sure that one of the items on the list is the Boy Scout Handbook.

2: Have health forms available, and pass out one to each parent (Class 2) and each adult who will be in camp for more than 72 hours (Class 2 for under 40, Class 3 for over 40). Make sure that everyone has a physical -- for campers under 40, including boys, the physical must have been in the last 36 months, for those 40 and over, it must be within the last 12 months. Have one of the leaders designated to collect these BEFORE leaving for camp.

3: Find out what merit badges and first year programs are available. Have each scout work out a program of the merit badges they want to work on. A first year scout should work on 2 or 3 merit badges. If there is a full time first year program (6 hours a day for all 5 days) consider that if you have Scouts with no advancement signed off. If there is an open, or part day, first year program, encourage all first year Scouts to take it. If there is no first year program, plan on providing support for it yourself.

4: Make sure that all parents have the address of the camp. Suggest that they mail 1 or 2 letters to the scout during the week they are at camp. Warn parents that mail needs to be sent several days to a week early to get to camp. Figure 4-5 days. Warn parents -- when the Scouts are outside playing a game -- that too many letters can actually worsen homesickness.

How to set expectations about rules and behavior without appearing to be autocratic and threatening. The important thing is to *have fun*, right?

1: Rules are set based on the Scout Oath (or promise) and the Scout Law.

2: Recommend that Scouts follow the "Buddy System" at all times when they are not in the troop campsite. Enforce this for a day or two, then let the Scouts have a little more freedom. Have the adult leaders keep track of where the boys are, but don't follow them too closely.

3: Set special rules -- dress codes, etc. -- before leaving. I recommend requiring a "Troop Uniform" for dinner (either the BSA Field uniform, the BSA activity Uniform or a Troop designed t-shirt uniform) if you eat in a dining hall.

Problems that always seem to crop up that we should be ready for

1: The big problem with first year scouts is homesickness. Keep the boys busy. If a boy is moping around camp, take them to the swimming hole or the archery range (if its free swim or free shoot). A busy boy won't notice he's home sick. If the camp has a telephone, restrict it to emergency use, with advance permission. Talking to Mom or Dad often has the effect of increasing homeskickness.

Your campsite commissioner, or equivalent position, should also be able to help out with homesickness. Also, the staff can be of use in other discipline problems -- last year it took a 16-18 year old staff member to diffuse a problem that none of the troop adults could.

Any general advice for leading a troop at summer camp.

1: Rely on the staff to do their job -- running the camp's program. However, let them also provide any other support you need

2: Use as much of the camp's program as possible. First year Scouts can benefit more from a Council Summer Camp than any other Scout (accept for maybe the first year staff member). However, make sure you have a strong Troop program to fill in the empty spots.

3: If you have a dining hall available, use it with your first year scouts. For more experienced scouts, outpost cooking is a very good option, but it may overwhelm scouts with only a few weekend campouts of experience. If you do end up using outpost cooking, let the boys do it themselves!

4: Get as much advise from other Scouter as you can. Most camps have some sort of lounge or coffee area where Scouter congregate. Sit there, join in on the conversations, listen. I probably learned as much about being a Scoutmaster sitting on the porch at Camp Napowan as I learned in Scoutmastership Fundamentals and Woodbadge.

5: (To the adults) HAVE FUN!! You are spending your vacation to go up to camp, don't let it become a chore. Most camps have opportunities for adults to participate in the same activities as the boys, and some have special activities (for the last two years, Napowan has had a Golf tournament for the adult leaders, who must make their clubs and balls first).

6: Get the scouts up at a regular time each morning. Use a bugle (or suitable substitute) if possible. (Last year, I got my Troop up with my Saxophone, and the Scoutmaster in the next site over used his Bagpipes). Set a reasonable "lights out" time. Expect the scouts to be in their tents, and not be heard outside after that time.

7: Make sure that scouts are sleeping 2 to a tent. If you have an odd number of boys, either put a mature boy by himself, or put three in a large tent. BSA regulations require that each scout have sufficient space for long term camping. A 4-man Eureka! Timberline, or a BSA wall tent is the correct space for 2. Do not put a scout in the tent with his parent.

8: Follow the Patrol Method (this should be number 1). With 15 boys you should have two or three patrols. Give each patrol responsibilities, and expect them to do them.

There are always jobs that need to be done each day: Latrine Cleanup, Fire Marshal (check the fire buckets), Table Waiting, Flags etc. Each of these jobs should be assigned to a patrol for an entire day. I use the definition that the day begins just before dinner (a good time for the Troop flag lowering).

Elect, or have the SPL appoint, an acting SPL. Make him responsible for making sure that the patrols all get their duties done. Make sure that you have an acting Quartermaster if the Troop has equipment, and assign an adult to work with him.

Encourage, even expect, all of the patrols to earn the honor patrol recognition that should be available at camp.

9: Expect problems. You don't go a week without them. Make sure you are aware of the camp's policies regarding injuries, lost scouts and emergencies. Make sure all adults know how to do basic first aid.

10: Make sure you know of any potentially serious medical problems. Food allergies and Asthma are major concerns. Remember the food in the dining hall is not always what it seems (often soy filler is used in the meat).

If you have any scouts on prescription medication find out. Also make sure you know the camp's (and often the states) policies on securing and administering medications. Make sure that scouts that need to keep medication with them do (asthma inhalers and sting kits are the things that Scouts are most likely to need to have with them).

If there are any recent changes to the medical situation -- last year I had about 1/3 of my troop on antibiotics when they got to camp -- make sure they are on the health form.

11: Be ready for the Sunday Afternoon drill. For most camps this drill is (more or less) as follows:

Arrive at camp at the designated time.

Meet a staff member who will guide you through Sunday Afternoon

Each Scout and Scouter go through health "rechecks" with the camp medical officer.

Camp is partially set up, and everyone gets into their swimming trunks. (You can save a lot of time by having the scouts wear them under their uniforms on Sunday).

Go to the swimming hole or swimming pool for swim check.

Go back to camp and finish setting up

Go to dinner

Scoutmaster and SPL go to camp program orientation, while the rest of the troop gets the "Field Sports" orientation.

Go to the opening campfire

Go to bed (adults are exhausted, boys are getting their "second wind."

12: If possible, run an unofficial swim check before camp. For a scout to be a swimmer (required to swim in deep water, canoe, sail or use a row-boat) he must be able to jump into water over his head, swim 75 yards -- three lengths of most pools -- in any front or side stroke, swim 25 yards using a "resting" backstroke and float motionless for a period. Scouts who attempt this but do not complete it are beginners and can use somewhat deeper water, and everyone else is a learner and can only go in shallow water. Scouters also must pass a swim check.

Thats all the advice I have for now (but you've got me wanting to go to camp, which I cannot this summer).

Ronald B. Oakes; Former Scoutmaster, Troop 91; Palatine, IL

Ron had a really great post. A couple of things I would add:

When planning out each kid's schedule, be sure to include time for fun (swimming, rec archery etc), not just cramming in as many merit badge classes as possible. One thing to consider is make this open time in the afternoon. At the camp I was on staff, the pool was ice cold and you could hardly bear to swim in the morning, but in the middle of the hot afternoon it was great.

A couple of times we had problems with candy. The camp will probably have a trading post and the kids will probably want to bring a little money, but you probably will want to limit it and have the Scoutmaster keep track of it. Tell the parents to plan on a set amount per day. One year we had a kid bring quite a bit of money and blow it all on candy the first day and get himself sick. Another time we had a hyperactive kid who had way too much sugar and it was a problem.

I assume the camp requires two adult leaders at all times. If this is a hardship I have known troops to have one leader who was there the whole time and then fathers came for one or two day periods. Also, you probably want to have one adult in camp or near at all times during the day, to be there in case of emergency or also (unfortunately) to watch for thieves or other problems. The adult leaders can take turns going to the pool or whereever else with the kids while one sticks around camp.

SUNBLOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One time we had a kid get really bad sunburn the first day and then he was miserable for most of the week.

Also, just to reinforce what Ron said, a busy kid is probably not a homesick kid. Watch for the guy who just wants to hang around the campsite and mope.

Have funl

YIS, Bruce Hietbrink

One comment to add to the other excellent ones made already. I have found in my 3 years as SM at camp that "leadership by walking around" seems to work real well. I try to hit all of the boys' program areas each day, see how they are doing, and in general "show the colors." Sitting back in camp or up at the dining hall, in my mind, does not let you know how the troop is doing. Participate is some of the activities as you go from station to station and have some fun. Don't forget your fly rod for the lake!

Nat Davis; Virginia Tech

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