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  • First Year Camper Program

    Fellow Scouters,
    I just accepted a job as the director of the first year camper program at D-Bar-A Scout Ranch in Michigan. I'm scheduled to go to National Camping School later this month at H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. I am very excited by this opportunity and have a lot of ideas, but I'm curious, what do you, as leaders, see as the keys to a great first year camper program? What makes it successful? What makes it fun? What crazy ideas have you seen work at your camps that I probably haven't seen in my local camps?
    Thanks in advance!
    Chaplain Tony

  • #2
    Tony for my money it comes down to a few things:

    1) Be clear on what the boys will learn and make sure everyone gets through it. Completing TF and a good part of SC are important. Communicate that in your Leader Guide so that folks know what they can expect from your program.

    2) Let the boys be hands on, go in depth on the skills taught and use EDGE. Don't just go through the motions. Make sure every kid can learn and demonstrate what they learned.

    3) Be inclusive. Look for the kid who is shying away or trying to duck out. Make sure they have a buddy and are having fun.

    4) Stick around at the end of the day and make yourself available to leaders or scouts that may have questions. Always appreciated.

    5) Have a make-up day on Friday where Scouts can complete anything they missed or did not get.

    6) Document who did what. Nothing is more infuriating to a leader than getting home and finding out the credits given at camp were wrong. Most camps give these out on Friday but having a status sheet posted daily would be a good idea. It will keep the guess work out of who needs what and will make reconciling your records at the end of the week easy.

    7) Make it fun! You will lose the boys if what you teach is not fun. If teaching knots used EDGE, but then have a knot relay race. If teaching map and compass, do some table work but then have a game.

    8) Keep your Instructor-to-Scout ratio low if you can. Ideally 1:5. If you can't do that due to lack of Instructors, ask some of the SMs to help out. Many units have an SM in charge of their first year program and are happy to help at camp.

    9) Build an sense of esprit de corps with your lads early. Make them feel united as a group. Not by their unit but by the shared sense of all being first year scouts.

    10) If you still have time after all of this, don't forget that some second year scouts may have a requirement or two they need to work on. If possible, have an open session late in the day to teach those in an ad hoc fashion. For example, if a SC scout needs to identify 10 local plants, maybe be prepared to show them.

    I am sure you will get some great ideas. There are no right answers. Just make sure you teach them well and they can show you. THAT is perhaps the most appreciated thing. Nothing is worse than a Scout who goes to camp and learns nothing.


    • #3
      Actually commenting on Krampus' excellent answers. Our first year programs have actually been pretty week. Part of the problem is many of the troops in our council don't take 11 year olds to long term camp. Instead the districts provide much of that in smaller overnight camps. Still there are holes in the program.

      So #6 Document it! Most important from the scoutmasters point of view. The boys also hate it when thay have to do something over.

      #7 Fun! For some reason my boys always end up in a class that looked fun but the instructor is boring. I understood it when it was a nature merit badge, but last year it wes woodcarving. Pick your counselors carefully. Yes to games!

      #8 As a Scout Master I would be very happy to help teach / supervise. I am often hanging out at merit badge classes working on my projects anyway.

      And one addition. The camp I am attending this year is holding the first year stuff during free time in the afternoon so anyone can drop in at any time and pass stuff off. I thought it was a great plan.


      • #4
        So Tam....You just take the Camp Staffs word they completed the requirements?????

        so how do you know if they acquired the skill to the level your comfortable with.

        I would never delegate my scouts rank advancement to something as Cub Scouty as a first year program at resident camp, which in many cases is day care for your new scouts. While my boys attend one, They do not just get an auto pass on the requirements when we leave camp..... We cover the tenderfoot/Second Class material on the weeks following camp at the troop meetings and the SPL and PL's sign off when the boys have demonstrated the skill to their satisfaction.

        In my opinion these programs are in part responsible to the Low quality of the current Youth Scouts, and their lazy SM's are also to blame..


        • King Ding Dong
          King Ding Dong commented
          Editing a comment
          Although I have no experience with the Scoutcraft programs, I agree 100% that only the troops own should sign off. Our SM has recommended that none of the NSP take it, as we will be covering it all at the campouts and meetings. It is good for the 2nd and 3rd year scouts to teach this as it acts as a refresher for them. Several of our 2nd year scouts were bumbling some knots at a meeting.

          There is also the problem that the material is to varied and vast to cover and retain in 5 days. Let them rack up a few MBs as a good start so maybe they can make Star by the following summer. They can knock out swimming, first aid, and cooking and have a great foundation. Maybe add leatherwork, basketry, nature or another fun one. My son is very engineering minded so he is going to go for pioneering knowing full well he may not get it the first time around. It should still be fun.

          At district training they used a lot of Jeopardy games for things like first aid, trees, animals etc. envelopes on a big sheet of cardboard and a white board for keeping score. (Not for fire ).

          Have some lotion on hand as all the ropes can dry out skin really fast.

          I would rather see a scout learn half the stuff well than just a survey of everything.

        • TAMScout
          TAMScout commented
          Editing a comment
          I didn't say that. I checked. The key to learning tenderfoot, second class, and first class skills, is using those skills. I don't know how any scout learns knots when they don't have to use one to set up a tent.

        • King Ding Dong
          King Ding Dong commented
          Editing a comment
          Tam, I agree. Just tying knots, for the sake of tying knots gets boring very quickly. It is much better to have a project to work on. Camp gadget requirement anyone ? Even simple pioneering projects can make great patrol building exercises and fun inter-patrol competition.

      • #5
        Most of my February Cross overs have already completed tenderfoot and are working on second class currently.


        • #6
          BD you have to understand not all of these programs are weak. Two out of the last three camps my unit has been to has had top notch first year programs. Low ratios with plenty of hands on, repetitive instruction. One even had a test at the end of the week. Scouts teaching scouts.

          I agree validation is key before sign off.


          • #7
            the camp our troop traditionally attends does not have a fantastic first year program two years ago 28 to 1 ratio, the boys didn't learn a thing and lost a year of summer camp in my opinion......

            This is the summer camp the past SM and many of the committee members attended as youth and they are resisting change.

            There are many things about the camp I do not like....from the many troops racing around camp on gators and golf carts picking up and delivering boys to merit badges. they generate an amazing amount of dust, nothing better than have one of them dust you just while you are walking back from the shower house....To the dining hall situation.....then the racist comments over the last two summers from other campers and adults. The merit badge instruction wasn't all that great as well.

            Time for a change.

            The PLC is looking at different Summer camps for 2014....Frielander, Frontier and Ramsburg.....we will be visiting all three.

            While the first year program might not be high on their list of things to look into.....I will recommend we go take a look at it.


            • Krampus
              Krampus commented
              Editing a comment
              Sounds reasonable. What I usually do is find out what they will cover int he program, monitor how they teach it and if we approve we will sign off after the boy can demonstrate it. Not everything covered is signed off, nor if they cannot demonstrate it then more work is needed.

              Sadly, old fat Scouters tend to bring golf carts with them. I'd rather not see them either. Medical reasons? Sure. But at one camp in 2009 there must have been 15 carts brought by Scouters. That's a lot of medical waivers.

          • #8
            Originally posted by King Ding Dong View Post
            Tam, I agree. Just tying knots, for the sake of tying knots gets boring very quickly. It is much better to have a project to work on. Camp gadget requirement anyone ? Even simple pioneering projects can make great patrol building exercises and fun inter-patrol competition.
            Take them to the climbing tower. That will show them what knots for for REAL fast....and they will love it.


            • King Ding Dong
              King Ding Dong commented
              Editing a comment
              Isn't there an age restriction on those?

          • #9
            Thanks for the feedback, all. I do hope to keep a good camper to staff ratio. Unfortunately, I've been give 3 staff members to work with, plus possibly CITs. I think I'll end up asking SMs and ASMs to lend a hand.

            My recommendation to leaders is that they review the content we cover with the boys no sooner than a few hours after we teach it to make sure they retained it. Maybe I should write a letter to be handed out at check in...

            Sure wish they had given me more time to plan.


            • King Ding Dong
              King Ding Dong commented
              Editing a comment
              Fail to plan, is a plan to fail. Better get moving. What is your ratio looking like ?

              At IOLS last week they tied a bunch of spars up horizontally on a pavilion for us to practice knots on. The instructors could move up and down the line. Although the side by side approach is best.

              Always ask your self this question. Is this method like camp or school ?

            • Basementdweller
              Basementdweller commented
              Editing a comment
              Reviewing the content a couple of hours after it is being taught proves exactly what??????????????


              The boy needs to have the knowledge a month after camp so he can apply it on the troop camp out.

              I just don't understand why SM's and parents send their boys to these programs and then expect for them to have the tenderfoot and second class skills in at least marginally learned.

              While I understand your tasked with providing a program........I would make it very clear that the home Troop leadership is responsible for quality control and attending the first year program is not an automatic pass.