Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Methods of Scouting at Summer Camp

Scouting’s purpose – what we refer to as “The Aims of Scouting” – is to develop citizenship (shared descision-making, teamwork , service to others), character (Scout Oath and Scout Law, a sense of responsibility, self-confidence, self-respect), fitness (physical and mental; Being Prepared) and Leadership in the young men and women we serve. Summer camp serves many purposes, but these aims should be at the heart of everything we do.

The Boy Scouts of America uses eight methods to achieve its aims. This combination of methods is what gives Scouting its unique character and sets it apart from other youth organizations. All of the methods are important – if we don’t use all eight, we’re not delivering the Scouting program to its full potential. Here are some thoughts about applying the Eight Methods at summer camp:

Patrols – Patrols are one of the most distinctive features of Scouting, and they are at the heart of our teaching of citizenship – the patrol is a miniature community where young people learn to lead and to follow; to cooperate, share, reach consensus, work out differences, compromise, make sacrifices for the good of the group, stand up for what they believe in. And that community is at its fullest operation when it revolves around outings, as the patrol works together to plan a menu, agree on a duty roster, make tenting arrangements, and then govern themselves for a day or two with minimum adult involvement. Too often at camp – especially when merit badges are the primary focus – the patrol method is neglected in favor of an “every man for himself” approach.

Things you can do as a leader to promote the patrol method during summer camp:
    • Insist that your scouts tent with their patrol.
    • Table space in the dining hall is often at a premium, but do the best you can to have your scouts sit as a group, preferably by patrol.
    • Schedule time for troop activities every day. If this means your scouts take one less merit badge, there is nothing wrong with that. Time spent with the troop and patrol taking a hike, building a pioneering project, swimming, or just hanging out at the campsite playing cards, is not wasted time – it’s time devoted to building the troop community, which in the long run will pay off in scouts who feel more vested in scouting, have more enthusiasm for the program, and stay in scouting longer. Involve your scouts in deciding what those activities will be – but remember most of them have limited experience, and they are looking to you for guidance and direction.
    • Have your scouts make and display patrol flags; bring a troop flag to raise at morning colors; and encourage your scouts to wear your distinctive troop t-shirt as much as possible.
    • Take advantage of activities like the Tribe of Matilija, Campwide Games, and FireQuest to build troop and patrol spirit.
    • Other possibilities for troop and patrol activities include GPS, Low COPE (an excellent teambuilding activity), hikes, and mountain biking, as well as more structured open-program features like climbing, shooting, and swimming. Ask our staff for additional suggestions.
Advancement – Advancement in Scouting is not an end in itself – it is a tool we use for several purposes: To help motivate, guide and measure the scout’s progress in learning outdoor skills as well as life skills; to create opportunities for older youth to provide leadership and instruction to younger scouts; to provide a focus for our activities; and perhaps most importantly to create opportunities for young men and women to gain self-respect and self-discipline by setting and reaching achievable goals. Advancement at summer camp, merit badges included, should be viewed with these goals firmly in mind.

Do not let summer camp become a competition to see who can earn the most merit badges. Some of the most successful troops set a maximum of three merit badges for scouts who are First Class or higher; two for Second Class scouts, one for Tenderfoot or Scout rank. Every year, we see boys who are stressed out and mentally exhausted by the end of the week because they’re trying to finish five or six merit badges. We want them to go home feeling good about themselves because they’ve made some advancement progress – but also with positive memories of the fun they had at camp. That’s what will make them want to come back next year.

Guide your Scouts toward merit badges that they’re ready for. If a kid hasn’t passed the BSA swimmer test with flying colors, they shouldn’t be in Swimming Merit Badge. If they don’t have a firm grasp of knots and lashings up to First Class rank, don’t send them to Pioneering Merit Badge. And so on. Letting scouts take merit badges before they have built necessary foundation skills makes it much harder for the counselor to cover all the material in the merit badge requirements during the limited time available, because he has to first teach remedial skills. And you’re just setting your scouts up for failure if you let them jump in over their heads.

Don’t neglect Trail to First Class. We feel Three Falls has one of the best Trail to First Class programs around, but don’t rely on our word that your scouts completed a requirement. Test them yourself at the end of each day to see what they have learned (another good use of troop time). Better, put your older scouts to work instructing and testing younger scouts on their advancement skills.

Uniform – The uniform is a sign of a scout’s or scouter’s commitment to live life according to the ideals of Scouting – to be a citizen of the Scouting community. While the current “fancy dress” BSA uniform is not necessarily practical for everyday wear in camp, we should expect scouts to wear it (correctly) at flag ceremonies and other formal times. The rest of the time, they should be strongly encouraged to wear a troop t-shirt.

Leadership Opportunities – Few other youth organizations offer young people the chance to take on real leadership opportunities the way Scouting does. Summer camp, more than almost any other troop activity, gives scouts an intensive opportunity to practice their leadership skills. Our programs should be structured to put responsibility in the hands of youth leaders to the greatest extent possible.

    • Involve your youth leaders in planning for camp, and brief them before camp on your expectations.
    • Let them work out for themselves who will do chores like serving as stewards. Make them create a duty roster and stick to it.
    • Be sure your SPL or Acting SPL attends the daily SPL meeting, and work with them to decide what they should do with the information they bring back from that meeting.
    • Hold daily Patrol Leaders Council meetings with your youth leadership to keep them informed and get their feedback on schedules and activities. Give them a forum to air problems and get advice from their peers.
    • If your youth leaders haven’t been through Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops before camp – or even if they have – set aside time in camp for brief, daily leadership lessons.
    • As I said above, put older scouts to work helping younger scouts with Trail to First Class or even assisting them with merit badge work.
    • Find ways to recognize and celebrate scouts who truly provide service to the troop.
Scouting Ideals – Camp gives us a chance to show scouts that the Scout Oath and Law are not just empty words, but a workable code of conduct. We remove them from environments where they are exposed to other codes of conduct, hold them to a different standard, show them examples of individuals who live according to that standard, and give them an opportunity to replace less desirable behaviors with better ones, based on higher ideals. Many of them, maybe most, will go back to their usual ways when they get home, but some will go home as changed individuals, and few will be completely untouched by the ideals to which we expose them.

Outdoors – The outdoors has always provided the venue in which all the other methods of scouting find their fullest expression. The sad reality is that Americans, even Scouts, are doing less and less camping. Summer camp may be one of their few opportunities to gain firsthand experience with nature and the outdoors, and our program should maximize this opportunity, encouraging them to participate in a variety of outdoor activities. While Three Falls, like most camps, offers several classroom-type merit badges, the truth is that summer camp is not the best place to work on those badges.

Take advantage of the opportunity to take your scouts on a hike, an outpost camping experience, walk the nature trail, and so on. Get them to try as many new outdoor activities as possible – tying some new knots, building a pioneering project, a compass course, stargazing – even if they don’t need it for advancement.

Adult Association – Young people of scouting age are struggling to make the transition from children to adults. By showing them examples of positive adult behavior we can help them make better choices. Staff members in the 18 to 21 year old age bracket have a particularly strong influence both on campers and on younger staff members – the behavior of staff members in this age group will be reflected in the behavior of younger staff and ultimately campers as well. At the same time, camp also provides an excellent opportunity for scouts – especially younger scouts – to become part of their troop community by developing stronger bonds with their adult leaders and older scouts. Adult troop leaders must be actively involved in providing leadership, supervision, and program for their scouts.

If your adults are involved in taking classes, going on hikes, helping with service projects, and other camp activities, it demonstrates to your scouts that those activities are valuable and fun. But be careful to find a balance – remember that the adults’ first responsibility is to the scouts’ welfare.

Personal Growth – All of the other methods combine to help Scouts increase their self-reliance, self-discipline, and self-esteem. These personal traits are keys to making them into healthy, happy, and productive adults.