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Do we really need summer camps?

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If the MAIN purpose of your summer camp is to earn badges then your priorities of a summer camp are all screwed up. Camp should be fun as its first priority, and a learning experience as a secondary priority. The reason we continue to lose boy scouts at alarming rates is because we continue to cram down their throats topics and experiences that they could care less about. Too many troops are run like a schoolroom, but in this case the result has been boys dropping out in large numbers and troops folding up.

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When I was a scout, you could earn 4 merit badges at summer camp.  Now, our troop has boys come home with 6.  I told my son to just sign up for 4 - have some free time to just have fun.

 

Different boys have different priorities and interests.  Some like lots of merit badges.  Some like to just hang out.  Others want some kind of adventure and doing something.  The challenge of summer camps ought to be how they can appeal to the different kinds of boys out there.

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Aaaah, Baden-Powell, he had some wise words:

 

“A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.â€

“A boy is not a sitting-down animal.â€

“The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.â€

“There is no teaching to compare with example.â€

“We do not want to make Scout training too soft.â€

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When I was a scout, I went to Boy Scout summer camp and never earned a MB there.  They weren't offered.  Somehow we managed to find things to do and have fun anyway.

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Do we NEED summer camp? The answer to that question depends on what kind of program you want to have. However, if you want what I think of as a traditional scouting experience and a lively, thriving program, the only answer is YES.

 

I see several goals for summer camp: (1) scouts having fun with their friends, (2) the opportunity to earn MBs, many if they so desire, (3) facilitate progress on certain MBs that are particularly outdoor oriented, and (4) learn/emphasize scouting skills like cooking, leadership, etc. Fun, as always, is the first priority.

 

For younger scouts, especially, I see it as an opportunity to cement their interest in the program. I mean, at that age, what can be more fun than sleeping in a tent and hanging around outside all day with your friends with no babysitters or teachers? That can easily be ruined, though, with the "MB mill" concept other have mentioned. Staying in MB classes all day every day is a grind they can get in school.

 

We live in a strongly Type-A personality neighborhood. The parents are accomplished and they are eager that their children become accomplished as well. We spend a lot of time counseling parents down off the ledge about “my child isn’t advancing fast enoughâ€. In our troop, we have a strong, well established FCE program in addition to the regular troop program. While the younger scouts are working on ranking up to First Class, they typically do not have the same opportunities to work on MBs because troop sponsored MB classes are held at the same time as FCE. This makes some parents very nervous. I find that summer camp is a great opportunity for them to scratch that itch.

 

We counsel them so that the scouts don’t get overwhelmed with MB classes. One of the things we do is ask the first and second year scouts to limit their choices to only 3 or 4 MBs, and make those MBs that don’t require a lot of out-of-class time. (Shooting MBs, for example, are usually counseled against for this reason.) If their parents are worried about boredom (or if the scout actually gets bored at camp), we just tell them that the scout can pick up another one while he is there since it’s—after all—summer camp! Usually, we advise them to take Swimming MB, which (1) covers all the swimming stuff for First Class, and (2) is Eagle required. That seems to help some of the parents because they can tell themselves that their son is finally making “real†progress toward Eagle. The young scouts also seem to like that they will have MBs to put on a sash for COHs.

 

There are also several MBs that are just easier and better to do at Summer Camp. Aquatics MBs have to be done outdoors, and most summer camps are staffed for that. If we had to find ways to work in not only Swimming and Lifesaving, I am not sure how many scouts at all would get canoeing, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding (not a MB), etc. Same for Environmental Science and some others that are distinctly outdoor MBs. So I always appreciate these types of opportunities. Also, there frequently are opportunities for “special awards†(somebody mentioned “BSA Lifeguardâ€â€”helped my son get a job) that would be difficult elsewhere.

 

No scout is ever required to take even a single MB, however. Most camps these days offer program alternative to MBs for older scouts so that we still have no problem with older scouts attending summer camp. We also have some troop-specific activities that are limited to older scouts that they enjoy. My 16 yo son just attended his 4th or 5th and had a great time. Will go again next year if he doesn’t have a job.

 

Could we still scout without summer camp? Yes, so we don’t “need†summer camp in that sense. But I consider it a valuable—even irreplaceable—part of our program. But it has to be handled and managed well.

Edited by Ankylus

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Just yesterday, my son says to me that he didn't think he wanted to go to summer camp next year.

 

I forget now how exactly it came up.... the PLC was yesterday evening so maybe we were talking about that upcoming meeting..... but it was out of the blue.

 

Anyway, i asked why, of course?

and he mumbled something about "being too busy", or some such thing....  

now this was out of the blue, not me bringing it up or prodding in any way at all!

and he continued....."and besides, you probably won't be there so he wasn't all that interested."

 

He's not an overtly homesick kinda kid, but he is young.... so that whole thing is part of it.... I had told him previously that i went this year as Committee Member, but that I probably wouldn't get to go again...
but his primary reason seems to be more about too much structure last summer, and not enough fun.

 

I of course thought of this thread so i'm happy to see it still active.  Well we had a little chat about the whole thing

and I put a bug in his ear about the idea of just signing up for a minimum number of MB classes so that he could enjoy more free time

And this also reminds me of a comment he made right after summer camp, or maybe even on the way home, about it being too far away (the troop had elected to go 550 miles).  It seems that the adults mostly steer it towards places at a higher elevation because it's too hot here in FL, seem to be pushing to go about the same next summer.

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If you're asking this question, then your scouts are attending the wrong summer camp. There is so much more to summer camp than earning MB's. Different summer camps have different "feels" and offer different activities. Shop around. You know you've found the right camp when the boys want to go back there year after year, like our troop does.

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After thinking about this a bit,  no we don't necessarily need Scout camps.

 

Now I know BP said "“A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.†but I seem to be missing the part that it has to be in a official Scout camp. A week of camping, hiking, canoeing with the troop also would fulfill his thought. Would the Scouts have fun, comradeship, learn Scouting skills, be leaders on such an event? I certainly hope so!

 

Now don't get wrong, I love my time at Scout camps and would not trade it for the world. For some Troops, Scout camp is the only option for a week away and this is the reason why it doesn't make sense to get rid of Scout Camps. Certainly, Scout camps make it very convenient for Scouts to earn Merit Badges which would be much more inconvenient to earn otherwise.

 

Consider this from a different angle.

I need transportation to my workplace.

I want to drive a car. (Would I like to drive a brand new Porsche Boxster...sure but I can afford a used Toyota)

Could I take the bus, bike, or even walk to work...sure

It comes down to wants and needs

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Growing up in Canada there were very few scout/guide camps and they didn't offer programs like the BSA or GSUSA run for their scouts here. If we used a scout owned camp the unit provided the adults and the program. It was awesome. We canoed, cooked, hiked and generally had a blast as kids. We went to national parks, provincial parks and conservation areas. Some were better equipped than the scout camps (showers and flush toilets).

 

Me feeling is that scout camps have a place, but that they should be on a provisional basis across the board. If parents wish to send their scout to summer camp do it. But if you want troop bonding then the troop needs to plan and execute the summer camping experience. I have been to 6 different BSA summer camps over the years and not one fosters troop/patrol bonding. Each scout has his own program and is seldom with his troopmates. Even evening programs foster individuality. Merit badge can come from other sources.

 

My girl scout troop plans and executes a summer program each year and once every 4 years we go to the West Sussex Jamboree (hey Skip you going next year)in England. Our summer camps have been a blast. We have backpacked, gone to a Midwestern city and done the tourist thing, vegged at the side of a great lake for a week, whitewater rafted and rock climbed. The girls research everything, plan it all and arrange the campsites. They make the shopping lists, and do all the cooking. The adults make reservations, drive, aid in shopping, and generally are available to assist when asked. We have a great week too, some of us partake in the activities planned, some just veg with a good book.

 

Very few of my girls go to council provisional camps. They're expensive and bland compared to troop adventures. On the other hand just about every boy goes to council summer camp and adults have to go too. I don't know any troops in my area that even attempt to plan their own adventures. I get the feeling its frowned upon by the BSA.

 

I guess my feeling is we need scout camps to be a resource, trained staff members that can teach/monitor activities that can't be done at home. They don't need to be scout schools with set class periods, pre-reqs and report cards (blue cards). Imagine a camp where scouts get up in the morning on their (the troop's) timeframe, make and clean up breakfast, the scouts pick an activity or 2 for the day and head off for some fun in the sun. Back for dinner and troop time around a campfire or an evening swim at the lake.No stress, no classes, kids being kids and playing and having fun.

 

Oh, but we can't have that happen, BSA would have a fit. No merit badges, no progress towards Eagle, no badge sales income. How anit-scouting could I get ;-)

 

You have basically described Daniel Webster Council's Camp Bell, in NH.  All patrol based program, boys are responsible for all meals, the camp does not have a dining hall, and while they may earn a merit badge or two, my son earned Horsemanship this summer, they are definitely not run of the mill.

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I was in Boy Scouts for 7 years. I never went to summer camp.

 

OK. The question is do we need them for the scouting program. What are your thoughts on that?

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I was in Boy Scouts for 7 years. I never went to summer camp.

That's interesting. Did you have any kind of extended camping/hiking/adventure experience in Boy Scouts every summer, or any summer? Or did you have some alternative summer experience, such as religious camp or family camping, that conflicted with what your troop was doing?

 

Or what?

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Summer camp was never an activity we were aware of. We always remained very active during the summer months however, and every other year or so, we would camp for a week on Bugg's Island Lake (between North Carolina and Virginia), at Eagle Point (council leased property from the Corp of Engineers). Some of my and my brother's best scouting memories were there.

 

We always had plenty of opportunities for advancement, if anyone was wondering.

 

And when I took over this very troop a few years later, I got our scouts involved in choosing and attending traditional summer camps (anywhere but "our" camp, as it was lousy, but it's a bit better now).

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Yeah, I just found out that it seems the camp our adults were steering to is where they will be going next summer.... another one 9 hours or so away....

 

I'm the first to agree that I prefer tent camping in cooler weather than we have in FL in the summer, but at the same time I do wish that folks would see value in stuff a bit more "local" and simple....

simple being a much shorter drive, easier for folks to get to all around, less drama, less of a big deal.

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