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10 tips for helping Scouts balance fun and advancement at summer camp

At summer camp, what’s more important for Scouts, advancement or fun?

Trick question. Scouts who attend the best summer camps and have effective Scout leaders guiding them don’t have to choose.

For these Scouts, advancement is part of the fun.

That said, there are always Scouts who take it to the extreme. There are the overachievers, who cram their schedule with merit badge classes and don’t leave any time to visit the waterfront, horse around with friends, or relax.

And then there are Scouts who do exactly the opposite, choosing to wander around the camp all week or just stay in their campsite and play cards.

Part of the responsibility for maximizing a boy’s time at summer camp falls on you, the Scout leader. With that in mind, here are 10 ways you can maximize both fun and advancement at summer camp this year. They come courtesy of our Facebook friends.

1. Make fun the priority

“Have the Scouts put on plenty of sunscreen, let the fun begin, and the advancement will happen (Baden-Powell said something to that effect),” says Dave M.

2. Find the right camp

Most council camps are great. Some are spectacular. “If the Scout camp is run well,” Janeen E. writes, “advancement will be fun!”

3. Select the right merit badges

Leave book-heavy merit badges for when you get back home, says Beth K. “Do the things you can do only at camp (or most easily at camp) and have fun. I discourage Scouts from doing the book-learning merit badges at summer camp. Enjoy the camp opportunities.”

4. Count on the staff

You can point Scouts in the right direction, but the staff takes the baton from there. “It comes down to the youth staff and the development the camp puts into their youth staff,” writes Jeff H. “If the counselors teaching the merit badges know their subject and bring energy and excitement to the class, they can be fun. If the Scout teaching the class doesn’t want to be there, neither will the Scouts in the class.”

5. Work hard, play hard

Dan K. says Scouts can have it all. “I always emphasize that camp is a great place to get difficult merit badges,” he writes. “Work during the day, have fun at night.”

6. Remember one size doesn’t fit all

“It somewhat depends on the age,” says Kenneth K. “The first year is spent working on First Class advancement activities (some of which should be very fun) including Swimming MB. Second year moves more to merit badges (including Lifesaving), which should be a mix of fun ones and ones that are harder to work on away from summer camp. Beyond that merit badges become less important, and fun becomes more important. By the fourth year, fun, high-adventure activities become more important, including possibly going to one of the high-adventure bases or going to camp with a Venturing crew.”

7. Don’t overvalue advancement

It’s important, says Eddie B., but it’s not everything. “Social skills developed while playing with peers is just as important as merit badge advancement,” he says.

8. Value fun above all else

Ideally you have fun while advancing, says Gary S., but, “If you have to err, err on the sided of fun. If the Scouts aren’t having fun they won’t return next year. They’ll have plenty of opportunities throughout the year and at a different camp next year for the advancement, but if they don’t have fun they’ll end up leaving the program.”

9. Avoid setting merit badge minimums

Some troops require Scouts to sign up for X number of merit badges at summer camp. Not Fred M. “I always recommend taking one or two required MB’s that you can’t get back home, while at camp and then take a few fun electives that won’t stress them out,” he writes. “There is so much more to summer camp than just MB’s. You have shooting sports, aquatics, handicrafts, Scout skills and fellowship. I don’t put any minimums on how many MBs the scouts must earn at camp. Its good to be active enough to earn a few, but I want them to enjoy their summer camp experience and be eager to come back the next year.”

10. It’s all in the timing

“I have been working on and off as summer camp staff for many years now,” writes John C. “I would recommend to my child is do advancement in the morning, when your brain in more geared toward learning. Then you have afternoons free for fun.”

Your turn

What are your tips for balancing advancement with fun? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below.


Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by stevejb68

10 Comments on 10 tips for helping Scouts balance fun and advancement at summer camp

  1. CodeMonkey // May 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm // Reply

    My father had a tradition (he was our scoutmaster) in that during the drive home from camp, we always stopped at a McDonald’s on the way, where he would give each boy $1 per merit badge earned to spend on whatever they wanted.

    After a week of camp food, those burgers & fries tasted really good.

  2. Gary Wilson // May 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm // Reply

    Remember, advancement is only ONE of the eight methods of Scouting!

  3. Keep plenty of drinks in camp. Last year was so hot that cycling MB was canceled and ice was scarce. Other regioanl camps shut down early but we stayed open. It was a strressful time but the boys endured and everyone made sure they had a good time.

    We also allow them to make a seperate hamock campsite in the back of the site for those who prefer to camp that way.

  4. All good points. Great article. I really like the photo of Minnesota Boy Scouts at Many Point Scout Camp.

  5. It comes down to the individual scout and the program at camp. I’ve had scouts try to spend their “off” hours just sulking in their tent or hanging out at the trading post while others might be playing volleyball or badminton in the campsite. When I was scoutmaster, I reviewed each schedule before it was submitted to the camp and discussed the objectives that each scout wanted to achieve during his week. I would often encourage them to take basketry or woodcarving as a fill-in for an hour’s space. Most younger scouts do better if they have friends in the same class. I always wanted to see some outdoor merit badges on their itinerary, especially the water activities, nature, campcraft and shooting sports. If scheduling allowed, I found that many boys enjoyed the aquatic activities better in the afternoon sessions when the cooler water was more refreshing than a first period test of fortitude! The new scouts were usually in the first year camper program in the morning and a couple of fun merit badges in the afternoon. I often had older scouts that would assist some new scouts with some tenderfoot – first class skills in the afternoon if both had any free time. Most of the time I had scouts enrolled in 3 classes in the morning and 3 in the afternoon but being careful to not overload their ability. Many years I would have scouts that wanted to excel in a camp wide competition such as nature identification or knot tying. I had no problem with these scouts arranging their schedule to have some free time to prepare their skills. Bottom line – be very cognizant when your boys have “free” time and try to make maintain their time as “quality time” where they are taking advantage of the outdoor opportunities. Mom & Dad didn’t shell out $250 to send their son off to play cards for a week! However camp schedule allows plenty of time to get in a few hands of cards before & after dinner. Their week will be rewarded – I never heard a scout complain when he was recognized at the Court of Honor receiving 5 or 6 merit badges that were earned at summer camp.

  6. All I can say is that our boys are going to enjoy the heck out of this, their most likely last summer camp. They will earn merit badges, they will climb the tower, they will mountain bike, they will have a grand time as they always have. I pray that it won’t be their last.

    Oh, by the way, I don’t tell the boys what to do. They get together with the PLC and decide what they want to do for the week. Remember Baden-Powell wanted the BSA to be boy-lead. Perhaps this is the reason we are in this current mess, adults have taken the fun out of “BOY” Scouts

  7. Neil Lupton // May 15, 2013 at 7:44 am // Reply

    Is the problem the Scouts or the parents? Or to put it another way, if the Scouts come back from camp saying “I had a great time!” will the parents’ first question be “How many merit badges did you get? We didn’t pay all that money for you to go up and play!”

  8. Just advised some boys last night on their MB selection. I was surprised that Wilderness Survival MB did not have any age restrictions. I had two scouts that have only been in scouting for 1 year thinking they wanted to take it. One was a Tenderfoot, the other just reached 1st class. Both are still in elementary school. I tried to tell them that this was really appropriate for older boys.

    Some of these boys are already taking shooting sports MB’s as a tenderfoot. I am sure they will have a good time but may not reach the skill level and leave frustrated. I would have preferred they took the open range time this year. I am a firm believer that some of these activities should be held back for older boys or they burn through them and when they get into high school they quit coming to Summer camp because there isn’t anything for them.

  9. We encourage our first year scouts to take swimming and first aid merit badges at summer camp. Then take whatever craft merit badges they would like. Second year scouts typically take Environmental Science and Emergency Prep and possibly Camping. and whatever else they want usually shooting sports, canoeing, small boat sailing, kayaking (now a merit badge!). Climbing is usually age restricted at the camps we go to and they generally aren’t old enough until their third year at camp. We’ll use the first year program for Scouts that haven’t been camping with us much before camp. If they crossed in February and get to go on 3 outings they are usually on their way to second class by summer camp and much of the first year program becomes redundant.

  10. One thing missing from the dialogue so far is the importance of emphasizing youth leadership in the summer camp experience. This week is the week they’ve been practicing leadership skills for, and it’s their opportunity to put them to work. Don’t stand in the way of boys leading each other at camp. Make sure they know they are responsible for themselves from first call to taps, and they’ll come home with more than patches of cloth and mosquito bites – they’ll be better able to manage their lives, a skill sorely lacking today in many high school and college-bound youth.

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