In the eyes of many parents, leaders, and Scouts, Scout Camp has long been a place for Scouts to go and earn merit badges that will help them on their trail to Eagle. Many parents find themselves disappointed when their son comes home from camp without the appropriate number of badges equal to the amount that was invested in fees for their son to attend.
Earning merit badges is certainly a worthwhile pursuit and can lead to character- and knowledge-building experiences. But the focus on merit badges as the key element of Scouting can cause a problem for older youth. Many 14-year-olds will have nothing to do with Scouting because in their view, Scouting is over as soon as they are not interested in earning merit badges any longer. Why go to Scout camp if they don’t want to earn badges?
Meanwhile, too many older boys and their leaders aren’t sure what to do for activities because they feel that boys their age don’t want to do merit badges any more. But merit badges are not all Scouting has to offer. Baden-Powell said advancement isn’t Scout program. Advancement is a result of good Scout program. I think that we need to take a step back to focus on the activity and allow advancement to come to us.
Focus on the Activity
It is in the activity that young men gain character. It is the activity that allows the group to organize themselves and learn leadership, sportsmanship, companionship and how to succeed and accomplish greatness. It is the activity that allows repetitive practice of living the Scout Oath and Law.
It is also in the activity that young men can experience the guiding hand of the Holy Ghost and the opportunity to strengthen their testimony. The process of coming unto Christ is a step-by-step journey that requires well-planned activities where young men can reflect on how and why they do what they do.
The first step to any good Scouting program is to help the youth plan activities that will accomplish all of these goals. This may seem daunting, but Scouting resources can help even the least-experienced youth and leaders be effective in organizing well-planned, youth-led activities. The new Program Features can be a great way to take advantage of simplifying some of those resources.
Scout Camp as a Culminating Experience
Camping at a Scout facility is one of the most valuable of Scouting’s available resources. Scout camp can provide all of the outcomes of weekly activities with the added benefit of getting your youth away from daily distractions for a concentrated dose of spiritual growth and character building. Best of all, these lessons will be disguised as a game to the young men.
A week of Scout camp is equal to a full year of activities, so it’s critical that the week be well coordinated. Some Scouting units send multiple leaders on different days during the week, making it almost impossible to coordinate the implementation of the desired outcomes. Other units are so concerned with making sure each Scout earns X number of merit badges that they don’t take time to make sure the Scouts are having valuable experiences. There are a few things you can do to make sure your Scouts are taking full advantage of their camp experience:
- Have consistent leadership—It can be a sacrifice for adult leaders to take a full week off work, but having consistent leaders present the entire time makes a huge difference in the young men’s experience. It is also critical to make sure youth and adult leaders are on the same page before camp starts.
- Make sure the youth do the planning—Mentor and prepare your youth, but let them plan the outcomes and activities at camp. When they do the planning, they are much more invested in the outcome.
- Make advancement an outcome, but not the focus—Scout Camp and high adventure camps are for life-changing experiences in the outdoors that your Scouts can’t get at home. Of course, some of those experiences will help a Scout pass off requirements for merit badges. But the focus should be on your Scouts experiencing the rigor and thrill of learning to sail, with the sailing merit badge as an added bonus.
- Facilitate spiritual growth—The outdoors is a natural laboratory to build testimonies. Make sure you are taking advantage of the setting by planning time for spiritual reflections and testimony meetings so the young men can articulate the things they feel and experience. You may be surprised when you find your youth leaders doing the same thing all on their own.
When you treat Scout camp as a culminating experience and not just a merit badge factory, you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make in the lives of your young men. Take your teachers and priests backpacking through the rain so they discover what they can accomplish when faced with obstacles. Help your youth create a camp experience with such impact that some decide to serve on staff to help other Scouts have the same experiences. Treat Scout camp as concentrated preparation for a young man’s life and missionary service. You’ll return from your summer camp experience with young men who have a better sense of who they are as sons of God and are more prepared to be missionaries, fathers, and priesthood leaders.
Author: Dave Pack| Scout Executive, Utah National Parks Council