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mrkstvns

What merit badges should a first-year scout do at summer camp?

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Every year, parents of first year scouts ask, "What merit badges should my son sign up for at summer camp?"
Every year, I hear different responses from the SM and from the different ASMs. Some of the responses make sense. Some don't. 

What I usually recommend is a 3-point approach:

  1.  Swimming merit badge
  2.  Pick fun, outdoor-oriented merit badges that aren't easy to do back home using local troop merit badge counselors or local merit badge workshops.  Good choices include:
    - Archery
    - Canoeing (or another boating activity)
    - Rifle Shooting
    - Horsemanship
    - Wood Carving, Basketry, or Leatherwork (or another craft)
  3. Avoid classroom-oriented merit badges and most Eagle-required badges. (Only Swimming and First Aid are really good fits for first-year scouts, and we do First Aid as a troop in-house workshop.)

I'd like to hear what kind of advice other scouters give to first-year scout parents.  

Thoughts?
 

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What MBs does the first year Scout want to take? And does he have a "free period" scheduled so there is time to just goof off?

 

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My great-nephew was a first year scout last year, and did 2 summer camps.  I made the same recommendation to him, that he look at things that can be tough to do at home versus camp.  Of course, it was then his choice as to what he wanted to do, other than a couple things he wanted that had restrictions.

Between the 2 camps he completed Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming, First Aid, Horsemanship, and Robotics.  He had a partial in Rifle, which he will finish this year.

Edited by MikeS72

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Swimming and First Aid - both can help you get far in advancement during your first year. Then do fun ones, Some camps only do 3 or 4 some allow up to six. Make sure your scout has free time to hang out, go to the trading post or whatever.

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Which merit badge courses should he take?

Easy - the ones he wants to take.

This is how Scouting works. A boy looks for activities he finds interesting, and invests his time in making them happen. If he wants to work on advancement, he'll want to work on required merit badges. If he wants to focus on activities only offered at camp, he'll take those courses. But if he just wants to do merit badges that he finds fun or interesting, he doesn't need to do anything else. Too often we as adults want to steer a Scout's schedule towards what we think they need, and we don't really trust them to figure that out on their own. But boys of this age, even 11 year-olds, are more responsible and eager to progress than we may sometimes think, and we need to allow them the liberty to prove that on their own.

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As a swimming and first aid MBC I have a couple of reservations with scouts taking these badges in their first summer camp. First, can they actually swim and will they be successful in the swimming MB. Many parents/scouts/SM think swimming is blow off badge and are disappointed when Junior doesn't complete the class. Liking the water and playing Marco Polo, aren't the same as actually being able to swim well enough to pass the required distances. Also, will they swim in a lake if that is where the MB takes place. It's amazing how many good swimmers freak out about being in a lake with fish, bird poop, turtles, etc. I watched a swim team member freak out about no googles, and seeing a fish swim by him as he jumped in so bad that he had to rescued by the lifeguard doing swim checks. He couldn't bring himself to retry the swim test in the lake. Because of his freak out he had to change three MBs (canoeing, swimming, and kayaking) to land based MBs. Camp only had a lake to swim in.  

Second concern centers on scouts taking T-2-1 class and also taking first aid class. The requirements for FA state that the scout has completed the T-2-1 requirements before taking doing the MB. If they didn't do them at home before camp and are just learning them in T-2-1 then they really haven't done a prerequisites. The scouts will also probably be bored out of their gourds if they do FA in T-2-1 and then go do it again in FA class. SMs aren't doing their scouts any favors if they sign off on the T-2-1 skills that haven't really been learned so a scout can take the FA badge at camp. I've had dozens of SMs sign off the prerequisites so a scout could take class because it was a timing issue. It just puts the scout at a disadvantage.

Finally, swimming and FA can be matters of life and death. I teach both topics for Red Cross as a paid professional, so I don't underestimate their value. Do you want your scout to get good and competent instruction in these topics or are you looking to tick a box? Summer camp staff members are more times than not are not experts or even well versed in these fields and usually only have a minimal working understanding of the topics. There are some great summer camp staff members, but usually they are just at a station because they have an interest in the topic or the camp couldn't find an appropriate instructor for the topic. Quality of instruction needs to be a consideration when deciding what merit badges to take. Misinformation from a poorly skilled leatherwork counselor is one thing, misinformation from a FA instructor could kill someone.

Scouts should take what they want provided they meet the prerequisites, have fun and enjoy the outdoors. Swim, hike, stir up the muck at the edge of lake to see what they see, watch the clouds go by. What they shouldn't do is take classes from dawn to dark and have no free time.

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I recommend swimming- they may not finish it, but if they don't do a lot of lake/pond swimming, it's an opportunity for them to get used to it.  And I am not one who would recommend any boating MB to a scout that doesn't have swimming, so it closes a lot of doors for year 2, 3 etc. if they don't at least try for it year 1.  Aside from that, pick one they feel they really would want to have (again, it may not get finished up in the first year, but that is OK- it's why partials are good until age 18).  Then I would suggest they take a MB (or 2, depending on your camps schedule) from common MBs that most camps offer that are pretty easy to complete in a week: leatherwork, sculpture, art, salesmanship, fishing, mammal study, chess, etc.  Having down time is essential as well- if they are forced to see their week of camp as a week of school, good luck getting them to come back.  I have been told that statistically the majority of kids that leave scouting do so after their first year of summer camp, (would love to see the true "white paper" on that, but it has been my experience as an adult leader that it is pretty accurate).

Biggest advice I throw out to all leaders out there: make sure you are clear and firm to parents that a week of camp DOES NOT guarantee that /Johnny or Susie are coming home with 4 MBs. It is not the point of a week of camp with their troop.  If Johnny or Susie want to go for another week of provo and make it MB Mania, that is their prerogative.

 

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The only badge I encourage the first year is swimming because it’s required for most water activities. And, summer camps have pretty good teachers. I had several scouts start camp as a beginner and leave passing the swim test. 

Barry

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56 minutes ago, bsaggcmom said:

 I watched a swim team member freak out about no googles, and seeing a fish swim by him as he jumped in so bad that he had to rescued by the lifeguard doing swim checks. He couldn't bring himself to retry the swim test in the lake. Because of his freak out he had to change three MBs (canoeing, swimming, and kayaking) to land based MBs. Camp only had a lake to swim in.  

Where is there a restriction against Googles :D or goggles for Swimming MB?  Our camp Waterfront Director checked a couple years ago and found no restriction against goggles for swim test  or swimming MB.

 

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12 minutes ago, RememberSchiff said:

Where is there a restriction against Googles :D or goggles for Swimming MB?

Camp must have been sponsored by Apple 🤣

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1 hour ago, bsaggcmom said:

Misinformation from a poorly skilled leatherwork counselor is one thing, misinformation from a FA instructor could kill someone.

As a Red Cross instructor, I completely agree.  I made that same comment to a SM a couple of years ago when two of his scouts were 'teaching' First Aid at Webelos Woods and told the boys that the first course of action for bleeding was to apply a tourniquet, and that the first step in case of cardiac arrest was to elevate the feet and pack the person in ice.  First Aid is not one of those things where close is good enough.

When my nephew took FA at our troop's second summer camp last year, I sat off to the side observing, and was very pleased with how well the young man teaching the class did.

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If she decides that I suddenly have knowledge worth sharing and asks me, my recommendation to my daughter will be to take no merit badges at camp this summer.

Go to the sessions; ask a lot of questions; follow up with open periods in areas you like; visit the areas during evening program; learn plenty of skills; get plenty of practice; try things that you wouldn’t get a chance to do outside of camp. But heavens to Betsy, don’t take any “merit badge classes”!

If you really want to earn a badge that piques your interest, take what you’ve learned during this week and find a counselor back home that the SM recommends. There will always be plenty of time and opportunity for that.

If you or any Scout wants to spend the week doing nothing but rifle shooting in pursuit of that perfect score, then spend your days doing that! Ditto for gritting out the mile swim, mastering the bow drill, climbing the wall, or catching that elusive giant catfish.

But don’t waste camp taking a “class.” School is out. This is the summer. Enjoy it!

Edited by shortridge
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Our Troop at Summer Camp has our first-year Scouts work on Leatherwork MB in camp, as we have an ASM who is a registered counselor for that badge. He spends more time on it than the group offering that the camp has and the Scouts tend to enjoy it more, we've found.

We used to also offer Wood Carving MB in camp as we had a registered counselor for that badge as well, but that ASM has retired so we don't offer that in the campsite anymore. But it was very popular and well-enjoyed by the Scouts. They would each make a walking staff as one of their projects. Scouts still bring those staffs with them wherever they go. My son entered his at the County Fair the year he made his at Summer Camp, and took home a blue ribbon.

We also have the first-years work on other badges we're confident they will be able to complete during the week, so we work with them to schedule badges such as Art, Basketry, and Sculpture. If they're a strong swimmer, they could take Swimming, if they'd like.

Other badges we will work with them on whether it would be appropriate or not as a first-year Summer Camper. For example, we might discourage an 85-pound 11-year-old from taking, say, Shotgun Shooting, because they might have trouble with the heaviness of the gun and dealing with the recoil, unless they could demonstrate that they'd be okay with it.

As others have noted above, we also tend to discourage all our Scouts from taking First Aid at Summer Camp, because the group setting makes it difficult to devote the individual attention this badge requires. As we tell our Scouts and their parents, this is one badge that we give greater scrutiny to because it's one life skill you will learn that could very well save someone's life.

And while merit badges at summer camp are not the be-all-end-all, it has reached the point, unfortunately, where you see a lot of scrutiny from families expecting their Scout to come home with merit badges, because they see it as a justification for the hundreds of dollars they're paying to send their Scouts to camp.

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16 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

Every year, parents of first year scouts ask, "What merit badges should my son sign up for at summer camp?"
Every year, I hear different responses from the SM and from the different ASMs. Some of the responses make sense. Some don't. 

What I usually recommend is a 3-point approach:

...

- Rifle Shooting

 

Note that some states, councils and specific summer camps restrict shooting activities by age. Rifle and other shooting sports might be better suited as a recommendation for second or third year scouts.

As an alternative, water craft MBs would be a good fit for summer camp as they not only require large(r) bodies of water, they also require otherwise expensive craft that scouts and scouters may not have access to otherwise.

My other recommendation would be to take those that are very difficult to complete within your troop or council due to required expertise and/or lack of MBCs. Scuba immediately comes to mind.

 

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