25 ways Scouters can make the most out of summer camp

Some would argue that this Scouter is doing exactly what he should do at camp: Relaxing somewhere Scouts can find him if they need him.

I know a place where adults voluntarily give up a week of vacation to oversee a bunch of teenage boys.

Some might call these adults crazy. I call them Scouters.

Around this time every year, hundreds of Boy Scout council camps across the U.S. fill up with Scouts having a week to remember — and the adult leaders who make it all possible.

At council camps, the staff sets the itinerary, handles the program, teaches the merit badges, and even prepares the meals.

So what’s a unit leader to do? How does a Scoutmaster or assistant Scoutmaster make the most of his or her week at camp?

Here are some ideas, sent in by Scouters like you on our Facebook page:

How to make the most out of summer camp

  1. Summer camp is the best vacation! Take it easy, wander around and see what the Scouts are doing, encourage them. Don’t take your cell phone or laptop. Enjoy the outdoors, make your self available, but stay out of the Scouts way as much as you can.” — T.C. N.
  2. Attend to your Scouts! Go to their classes, and make sure they don’t skip class. Follow up on their merit badge paperwork to see if it is completed. It’s not a vacation, it’s an interactive position to build relationships with your scouts. If you want a vacation this is not the place.” — Jill R.
  3. Bring lots of bug repellent, keep Band-Aids in your pocket at all times, and don’t expect much sleep before 10 p.m. On the other hand, it’s going to be the greatest experience of your life.” — Michael B.
  4. Take pictures of the boys having the time of their lives, and share them with the Scouts and the parents that don’t go. We would love to see pictures of our kids grooming/riding the horses, climbing the tower, etc. Things they don’t do every day.” — Tracy H.
  5. Make sure nobody is practicing fire-starting while you’re napping!” — Jenna S.
  6. Be prepared to deal with: homesick younger Scouts, lots of questions you can answer with “have you asked your patrol leader or SPL?”, and discipline issues of every kind.” — Win R.
  7. If you have a boy-led troop then a Scoutmaster has a week of vacation. SPL and ASPL will take care of stuff, and if they can’t, they know where to find you: ‘Kicked back in camp.’” — Curtis S.
  8. Get plenty of rest. Have vacation days available after you week of camp to rest more.” — Bruce D.
  9. As for homesickness … hang on to those letters until the ride home. NO calls to home (the last thing you need is Mom ending the letter “I miss you,” and the boo-hooing begins). The kids are kept busy all day long and get worn out by the end of day, and it’s to bed. They’ll have lots of fun and the week will go by quick. Scouting magazine had an article on this a few years ago. It’s a really good article.” — Donald P.
    (Bryan says: Here’s the article!)
  10. “If possible, have the swim test done before you get to camp (at worst a Scout has to do a swim test again, at best, long lines avoided).” — Skot L.
  11. Make sure your hiking boots are up to the task. You’ll circumnavigate the camp at least 20 times per day! And be up on all your Trail to First Class stuff ’cause not only will you need to confirm that the boys learned it as you’re signing them off, but you may have to reteach or pitch in and teach.” — Janet J.
  12. Always look out for the safety of the Youth first, but CATCH the Spirit of camp, ‘put it on’ and live it!” — Ron M.
  13. Bring a hammock, and make sure the Scouts see you climb into it at least twice a day. The rest of the time tell them it is available for rent — two minutes for a handful of litter. You will have the cleanest camp site in the camp.” — Jerry J. 
  14. Make sure that your SPL (and your adults) know all the activities that are going on in camp. Encourage them to get involved. The more they are involved, the more fun they have and fewer issues of homesickness.” — Brian Z. 
  15. Get trained and get a comfortable chair.” — Curt N.
  16. Take advantage of opportunities to be a camper – archery, mile swim. Do the SM merit badge if the camp has it. Talk to lots of people from other troops.” — Beth K.
  17. Don’t forget your coffee cup.” — Renate M.
  18. Engage the Camp Commissioner. He is there to help your troop plan their campfire skit, learn a new skill, and design a custom experience.” — Donald M.
  19. Have fun, be involved as much as possible with what the camp offers, take a deep breath during frustrating moment, revel in the glory at the end of the week when you see true growth in each and every Scout.” — Karen H. 
  20. Every leader should bring earplugs and rotate who wears them each night that way someone is getting sleep and if needed the leaders on call can wake the others.” — Nicholas G.
  21. Know what ‘homework’ the boys need to work on BEFORE the last day of classes. Those monkey bridge models for Pioneering take some time!” — Robert W.
  22. Take a cribbage board and cards. Then, be available but on the sidelines.” — Paul K.
  23. Relive your days of youth and have fun. Learn new skills and become a better man because of it.” — Don S. 
  24. Guide and direct without ‘hovering’ … let the boys fail and deal with consequences. I had a good time by asking the camp leadership where and how could I help… this kept me busy and let the boys see that I had ‘things to do’ as well as they did.” — Lynne T.
  25. Keep one eye open!” — Rich L.

What do you think?

Did any of these suggestions resonate with you? What other advice can you offer an adult leader? Leave your thoughts below.

Top photo by Kevin Via, Baltimore Area Council; Secondary photo by Charlie Tapia, Theodore Roosevelt Council

39 thoughts on “25 ways Scouters can make the most out of summer camp

  1. Get Trained! Our camp offers tons of training, both serious (Scoutmaster Specific, BSA Lifeguard, Climb on Safely, Small craft safety) and not so serious, like the ever popular Nap on Safely. Find an activity you have not done, and try it, it sets a great example fo the Scouts!

  2. Train, volunteer to help teach a merit badge, man the observation tower at the water front, help serve meals, do a project to help the ranger out maintaining something at camp. One year I helped build that councils gateway for the 2010 Jamboree.

    Earn “Scoutmaster’s Merit Badge” and challenge your Troop’s adult leaders to do the same.

    I’ve been to base camp 3 1/2 weeks over the past 5 years. It is always a fun time for an adult especially after the Scouts get off to their classes on the first day. I’d be there this week if I weren’t leaving for Philmont on Sunday!!!

  3. YEAH, what THEY said…but here’s a couple more:

    - read a book. This is the perfect opportunity for you to read for your own entertainment or pleasure.

    - talk with other Scouters. Summer camp is unique as you have PLENTY of time to sit and talk with other Scouters — not just Scoutmasters but other Troop’s committee members, Commissioners, visiting Scouters (like me!) and “that guy you see every evening at the trading post or the pool and wondered who he is and what unit he’s out here with…”

    YES your job one is to be there for the youth of your unit. But most times in a successful, youth run-adult managed Troop, you will find yourself with a LOT of free time and unless *you’re prepared!*, you’ll spend most of it snoozing off somewhere. Don’t be *that guy* or gal! *laughter*

    Be Prepared!

    • Mike, Good as always to see you weigh in on the subject. Been a while since we chatted last. Glad to see you are still plugging away at this thing we love called Scouting!
      Your points (as always) are spot on.

  4. Mike, Just read a phrase that caught my eye….Youth Run-Adult managed Troop! There’s a concept…..I’ve see too many times leaders get this “Let the boys fail” mentality and just let them go without any shadow leadership. GREAT PHRASE! As for camp, hopefully a leader has sat down with each boy, asked their wants out of camp and planned what THEY want. If a boy wants merit badges, then plan out what he needs with what they offer at camp and decide not to do the one’s he can get on his own or at troop level. remember it’s ALL about the BOYS. We had a troop of Merit Badge go-getters, so us leaders cooked most of the meals. The boys were suppose to cook, but sinch they had a “Full Plate” we thought this was the best option. What ever you do, don’t be one of those “Loaf Around” leaders and make life hard for the boys…camp should be a great experience, not a lousy one…

  5. I agree with most of what was said. Summer Camp is NOT a time to follow boys around and make sure they get to class.. or stay in class for that matter. It is their week to have fun, be with friends and enjoy camp. Adults.. Get out of the way.
    I find it funny that the only two comments in the list from facebook that were not spot on were from female leaders. I am not sure why that is… but I would suggest they take a good book, a compfy chair, and leave the boys alone.
    Summer camp is for the boys, but there is a lot for adults to do, if they don’t want to read a good book.
    How about hitting up the commissioners or the business director and see if you can do a service project with a few other adults around camp.
    Go for a hike.
    Volunteer your time in the Trail to First class area.
    Learn a new skill, or sharpen an old one.
    Pick up whittling.
    Practice your harmonica tunes.
    Make a new friend over a nice cup o’ Joe.
    But for goodness sakes.. get away from the program area and stop hovering over the Scouts that are trying to have fun without you. Problem is they are to polite to tell you to leave them alone.
    You are there for YPT and a seat belt. Beyond that, the staff with do the rest.
    Sign a blue card or two and have a good week.
    Have fun and have a great Scouting Day!

    • Well women and men do have different views. ‘Tis is life’s fact. Knowing that I made sure when seeking feedback for a Scout project that I added men to our dominate female group to ensure a nice balance and ANOTHER perspective: male.

      I gotta agree that the first comment was definitely a mother not knowing the BP method. I didn’t see the second aimed at the boys but aimed at adult going to take full the opportunities that camp offers for themselves. when i look back i realized now i never understood the Patrol Method but then again NO ONE ever explained it to me. I went on ALL the campouts as a parent so I never had the training nor did any one sent or suggest it to me. I do remember being pulled into a training session of IOLS to learn a few things as a wiser Scouter said since she comes she should learn it so can catch ‘safety’ issues. I didn’t get the full training of IOLS but did earn my totin’ chit and knots and more. Just a thought that instead of saying they don’t know the B-P method, instead wonder if anyone suggested or explained the method to her.

      I remember my week at summer camp. It was done on a bet with my son. It was my first camp experience. I did nothing with my son yet had a ball with the leaders. Didn’t get as much out of it being deaf lesson wise because of the spur of the moment like I would a training session where I ask for the materials to read in advance. It was great fun though and relaxing to see a side of scOUTING without scouts!

    • Your are absolutly right Jerry!!! The boys that skip class this year wont be the ones to skip next year. It comes with the territory of growing and maturing.

  6. Get to national camp school and volunteer. My wife and I went to NCS this year and have signed on as volunteers for the next 3 years at our local council camps which depends on adult volunteers. I’m working as the shooting sports director, she will be doing activities director and our 3 scouts will get to be at camp for 2 weeks of camps as well! We are lucky enough to be teachers and have the time to support summer camp!

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  8. I admit, after being on summer camp staff for several years, I don’t think I could just sit down and relax. While I’m not going to pester the scouts and follow them around, unless I’m the primary adult leader in camp, I’d be doign something. I’d probably do BSA Lifeguard again, or see if I could help teach a few merit badges I an MBC for.

    But no matter what, I would be having fun!

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  10. My story:

    Summer camp is how I started down the Merit Badge trail.
    I could do a better job than the youth leading…
    That year assisted the first year program. Camp staff needed the help.

    Lead the Troop service project at camp one year. Coordinated the effort.

    Our Troop brings so many Scouts (62 this year ) that we now do our own First Year program. For the last few years I only come out for a day one two and work on special advancement requirements. This year: knife, axe, saw and fire building. Then renew my CPR or what ever else is available.

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  12. take a turn doing the same daily chores the Scouts do (but don’t take on the chore only for yourself.)

  13. Don’t forget, be kind to Camp Staff! As the father of two camp staff, one of whom is on her eight summer and currently serves as program director at our busiest camp, I find that some adult leaders have completely unreasonable expectations of the young men and women who basically volunteer their summer as camp staff. Remember, they make between $5 and $100 per week to be available 24/7 to the demands of camp leaders. Last week, there was an ASM from an out-of-council troop spend 30 minutes dressing down the eighteen-year-old dining hall stewardess because they ran out of oatmeal and had to offer instant oatmeal packets instead. Lucky it wasn’t my week as commissioner because I’d have called him out on it. His SM offered the week excuse that he was an attorney in real life and used to “bulldozing” over people. Ugh!

  14. If you’re a DIY’er, find a camp improvement project. There’s not a ranger alive who wouldn’t welcome an experience leader fixing/improving something at camp. I’ve built a lifejacket shelter, tent platforms, permanent dining fly frames, axe yards, bulletin boards, etc. Our camps are always looking for skilled help, and every year I can go back and see how what I built is holding up!

  15. Pitch-perfect advice and good reference for the “Summer Camp Continuity Binder” we’re starting. A few adds from three years of “been there, done that”:

    - Be sure to not work so hard that you can’t spend some time with your own son(s). Not so much that you are a crutch or a buddy, but you will have a chance to create some special father-son memories — one of ours is completing the Mile Swim together
    - When in the program areas hanging out and taking pictures and an instructor asks, “Hey mister, want to do the zip line after the boys get finished?” say yes!
    - Likewise, when the instructor at the climbing tower asks, “Can you belay for us all afternoon so we can get more boys up the tower?” also say yes!
    - Use Troop Time / Siesta to work on Tenderfoot / Second Class / First Class requirements — or employ Star Scouts to use the EDGE method to do the same
    - Have a slushy at the Trading Post. You’ve earned it, and you need the calories to replace what you lost traipsing around the camp and sweating all day!
    - End the night with a good campfire and the sharing of great stories!

  16. As a scoutmaster who leads our scouts every summer too at camp I identify with all that you mentioned…..also we have scoutmaster competitions at camp & opportunities to take classes such as the COPE Leadership class with the scouts. I try and participate in many activities….at the recent camp one day we attended Chapel at 6:00am and were on the go until 11:30pm Astronomy Star-Gazing Party! It is worth every minute of it – great exercise in the high, cool altitude mountains of New Mexico too high for mosquitoes! Thanks to those parents and assistant scoutmasters who help out at camp – I could not do it all alone as I like to visit the scout areas throughout the day while encouraging, taking lots of pictures and helping the counselors!

  17. As an assistant scoutmaster, with 15 of our 18 scouts going through the first year camper program, I found myself spending most of my time helping there. I also had a great time wandering through camp checking in on all the merit badge classes. It was also fun and relaxing, working on the Scoutmaster merit badge so the scouts could see me working as well. I am now the scoutmaster still with a VERY young troop, (our SPL is 13!) and myself and three other adult leaders took 17 of these scouts to Gettysburg for a week doing the Heritage Trails program put on by the New Birth of Freedom Council. Although this was an experience of a lifetime, the years worth of planning and the 24/7 contact, including teaching merit badge classes took a lot out of us. I greatly look forward to going back to Summer camp and letting someone else do the planning and cooking!!! (Although we’re beginning to plan to go to DC for 2014, and this time, the scouts will be progressed enough to do a lot of the planning!)

  18. Went to Summer Camp for the first time ever. 21 Scouts and 3 Leaders. We rotated jobs between the Leaders. There was always one Leader in camp encase of emergency. One would drive our paraplegic scout the mile and a half to and from the Horse arena. One would escort a first year scout to the ranges because no one else in the troop had shooting at the same time. The rest of the time, we wondered the program areas taking pictures of the scouts and lending a hand when asked.

    I did get two naps in.

  19. From a FEMALE Scoutmaster – I have a blast at summer camp. I earn the scoutmaster’s badge, help in any area of camp needed, take tons of photos, love the trailblazers, help out at first aid, do anything that is asked, plus have a great time with the scouts. I have attended summer camp for over seven years now and enjoyed every year. I must disagree about checking on on your scouts – well I am a scoutmaster and that is part of what I do (my parents expect it) – I walk around take pictures for them and their parents, send photos to parents, post of FB for parents to enjoy, make sure they are drinking lots of water, no need of anything and I like participate with the class. Sit and listen and learn – have fun! I get to know staff, new leaders and make new friends as well as they do, and make lots of memories. Scouting to me has always been about my scouts and having fun together – I have so many memories to remind me of why I love scouting and summer camp! I have talked to the Camp Commissioner about starting leadership classes for our scoutmasters during the day but all in all I am there for my boys, making sure they have the time of their lives! We all work together to make it a great week for everyone.

  20. I have to say I agree with Scoutmaster Jerry. Camp is time for the boys to begin to spread their wings. They are starting down the road to adulthood. I am always there for any of my boys on campouts and I certainly assure their safety. This is the time for the boys to start learning responsibility. They need a scout leader that they know will be there for them if needed but they dont want a babysitter following them around camp. (my sons inform me that that is uncool and embarrassing) It is a great time for leaders to get additional training or renew training. It is also a great time to sit in the shade read a good book and nap. Remember most of us are giving up some of our vacation to go to camp.

  21. It was a great time to develop my wood-carving skills; I had a set of wood carving tools I won in a silent auction, and the Trading Post had easy-to-carve basswood precut slides to practice on.

    Before we left camp, half the Troop had started a project of their own. It felt really nice to introduce the boys to a hobby that I’m not very good at. I don’t have to be an expert to be a mentor.

    • I inherited my Grandfather-in-law’s wood carving tools after he passed away. Summer Camp was a perfect time and place to begin honing my whittlin’ skills. Slowly, I am carrying on his decades-long tradition of carving neckerchief slides. We miss you, PAT.

  22. These two pictures are exactly what I plan on doing next week (plus lots of other things). Drinking slushies and taking a afternoon nap EVERYDAY!

  23. As a new Camping MB Counselor, I sat in on the Camping MB session everyday to see how they teach it and exactly what is being covered. I told the camp counselor what I was doing, that I was not there to critique him, but to also learn.

  24. I am an female adult leader who completely disagrees with the two other ladies that posted. These kids do not need momma at camp. And, what you are suggesting, in my opinion, is having a momma at camp. They need to learn the responsibility and the lessons of being on their own and being responsible for themselves. This is a controlled environment where the stakes aren’t that high. So what if they don’t finish the merit badge. It’s on them in the end anyway.

    It’s important that the leaders who are bored stay out of the youths way. It’s equally important that parents don’t scout their own kids. I have my parents in my unit and I have my children in my unit. I’m the prime example of why you don’t scout your own child.

    Let them be. It’s a week of camp. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t go exactly how some adult thought it should go.

    :)! Nap for me. A smurf in the blender icee after lunch. Alot of walking and picture taking and “so, where should you be finding that answer?” to questions.

  25. I always figured it was up to the boys to get themselves around to class. So after the first day, that was their responsibility. After all they do it in school the rest of the year.

    I’m a shooting instructor so I would volunteer at the rifle range. I did learn about leatherworking at summer camp as well as woodcarving. Both things that I still enjoy doing.

    I loved those weeks at camp. A week with no disturbances from the outside world. No cell phones, no internet. Entertainment at the dining hall. Swimming and hiking. For me it is better than a cruise.

  26. Get Trained! There are adult training opportunities at every camp that usually are not offered ANYWHERE else. Last year, I took Paddlecraft Safety and now our Troop can plan water events.

    Join in on the Fun! YOU can be a role model for your troop in some of the activities. Polar Bear Plunge and Mile Swim are great areas where your boys can see you doing and not just speaking about doing.

    Volunteer! Every camp needs some work done. Take some tools and find the Ranger. I am sure he would be glad to put you to work.

  27. 1) Sit with the Scouts and review the Merit Badges they’re interested in. I’ve seen Scouts who “think” that they’ll have all the time in the world to earn 5 Eagle Required Merit Badges. Instead of completing them, they drop out. A little bit of experience goes a long way to guiding them

    2) NEVER have a Scout bring a cellphone, takes away from being away for a week. If Mom/Dad is worried, you can call to just say “He’s still alive”. Especially First-timers!!

    3) Mandatory International Shower Night, usually mid-week :-)

    4) This whole week gives you a chance to actually talk “TO” to Scouts, very informal. Always have the best chats, talks with the boys during down time.

    5) Encourage, encourage, encourage the new/younger scouts. The worst thing is to see a younger scout getting dejected because things aren’t going as well for them as the older scouts.

    6) I prefer the motto “I don’t expect you to do anything that I wouldn’t do”. We have a rule that the last one out of their tents brings up the garbage to the dumps. Having been “called out” as being the last one up…ONCE, it was a cheerful service that the kids got a kick out of.

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