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

About Bryan Wendell 2843 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.