Campers won’t settle down at bedtime? Try these four tips

Heading to summer camp or your unit’s first summer campout?ScoutingCover1950

If you’ve camped with Scouts before, then it’s likely you’ve encountered energetic boys (and Venturers, too) who have a hard time settling down at bedtime.

The woes of Scoutmaster Knott in the May 1950 edition of Scouting magazine will sound familiar. In this tale, the Skunk Patrol continues making noise “like a hog-call contest in Times Square” late into the night. His solution? Calisthenics and trash duty in the dark hours. Before he knows it, the boys drop into bed, exhausted.

The article offers four timeless tips for helping “boy-discipline in camp”:

  1. Horseplay on the first night — or any night — will not necessarily wreck the republic. (And it may make better medicine than the repressive discipline used in stopping it.)
  2. The approach is the thing.
  3. Hard work and hard play — before Taps — makes Jack a sleepy boy.
  4. Whatever your “system,” be firm, be tactful and you’ll be respected.

Anything to add to the list? What kinds of bedtime enforcement work for your troop or crew?



  1. I would always take the troop on a night hike the first night in camp. This was not a punishment thing, but we made it exciting so that the guys always looked forward to them. It doesn’t solve all issues, but they are more ready for sleep!

      • You presume A.j. was an SM. He might have been an SPL and no adults were present!

        Regardless, although “two-deep leadership” applies to the outing in general, “no one-on-one contact” would apply to any specific activity. One adult with multiple youth on a 2 hour night hike is compliant with Youth Protection.

    • I agree. Make the night hike fun! Review your constellations after the Friday night tent/sleeping set up is done. Get out a bag of wintergreen lifesaver candies and once it’s dark and they have walked say a half hour, everyone faces a partner and someone hands out the wintergreen life savers and chew WITH your mouth OPEN. You’ll see.
      Look for fire flies in the spring, look for glow worms later in the year, listen for bugs and frogs and birds that only vocalize at night. It’s an experience that is very special.

  2. If they can’t settle down, I take everyone on a night hike. This brings up some fimiliarization with the area and puts pressure on the probablem from everyone. I feel everyone is responsible to be respectful to the sleep time.

  3. It doesn’t make much sense to get bent out of shape if the boys stay up late the first night of a camp out. They are typically pumped up for a few days before the camp out and have to get it out of their system. It is also a “reunion” if they get to meet up with scouts from other troops. Same for the adult leaders. We make sure that they understand that they have to get up quickly after the bugle call in the morning and not keep fellow scouts from sleeping.

    We had an incident when I was a scout when some on the boys were up till 2 am making all sorts of noise. They were warned of this several times. They got a 4 am wake up call and had to cut wood for 3 hours. The SM’s and dad’s took turn all day making sure that those scouts did not get a nap in and that they were busy all day long until taps at 10:00 PM. They received no simpathy from their fellow troop members as well. We did not have any problems after that. They then understand that a scout is “Courteous”

    So what Daniel Helfen states is wise council. Make up a time and enforce it. We never had many issues with young scouts though. We watch for yawns and ask them if they are tired. If they answer “yes” we suggest that they turn in. They usually fight it (sleep) for about 10 minutes and head for their tents. If you make them aware of how tired they are, they act on their own.

    The remainder of a camp out, once taps is called, they are to be in the campsite, around the campfire or in the tents. 11:00 PM, they have to be in the tents being quite.

  4. make the SPL the enforcer of “Lights Out”. The SPL and the individual PLs are the best means to keep everyone in check.

  5. Tell them the 1st night they have to go to sleep and then the 2nd night
    they could stay up as long as they want.The 2nd night they be so tired
    from the days actives they will go to sleep with no problem.

  6. Always start your troop weekend camping trips on Friday night. After a full day of school, driving to the campsite, pitching camp, getting their own gear straight, and having a PLC meeting to confirm the plans for the weekend, it’s 10 PM and the kids are exhausted. They will WANT to go to sleep.

    Second rule. Always use two man tents. Once the first kid falls asleep, the party is over in a two man tent, as the other guy has none to talk to. If you have more than two Scouts in a tent, all you need are rotating shifts of two scouts awake to keep the party going all night.

  7. 1. Two man tents. Not a lot of room for a whole bunch of guys to horse around, and as mentioned by others, once one guy crashes the other one will too.
    2. If they’re still rambunctious at bedtime they didn’t do enough during the day. Make sure the next day has more activity
    3. No electronics – and enforce it.

  8. With a few exceptions, we have actually had Scouts hit the sack during the evening campfire — sometimes even doze off at the campfire. Not that the campfire was boring, but they were that exhausted from the day’s activities! We do have older Scouts who will carry on conversations in one tent, while there’s snoring coming from the next tent. It all depends how tired they are to begin with.

  9. I read a Scoutmaster’s memoir a few months ago, “Troop 51: Scouting in Action” and his solution from a story in the 1950s when his boys wouldn’t get to bed at summer camp, (with everything coming to a crescendo when a scout put a black snake in his bed as a prank), was to march them up the mountain and back. They got back in camp just barely in time for breakfast. It was good enough to get the boys to bed when he said so for 30 years after.

  10. In my experience as a Troop leader, SM, ASM, committee member, the issue normally doesn’t last more than one night. By the next night they are too tired to make noise.

  11. This happens with my crew, and – depending on the adventure – can pose risks. Usually, if they are up, they are courteous enough to talk some distance away from the tents. I ask them to give me their “lights-out” time, then return at that time to hold them to it.

  12. Even a small “campfire” can help. The usual progression: Opening, silly songs, cheers, ghost story, thoughtful SMMinute thing, closing “taps” will lead into the slumber times….

  13. While it undoubtedly would work, and frankly, as a Scout, I had to do things like that, in 2014, I believe that calisthenics and trash duty late at night would be considered “hazing.”

  14. One of our ASM reads a chapter or short story which calms everybody down. The scouts often beg for a second chapter but all is quiet afterwards. ??

  15. Sorry, I always thought that was what ear plugs were made for and as leaders, we took turns keeping it to a dull roar the first night. As has been said-second night was everyone snoring before midnight.

  16. I started using old time radio shows, mostly mysteries and suspenseful stories, I didn’t know how well they would be received, but they were sleeping within 15 minutes and the next compost were asking for the stories again.

  17. “Stay awake as long as you want. Play all night if you want. I’m waking you up at 6:00. And if you keep me awake i’ll rock you to sleep” usually does the trick.

  18. I had to pull my son out of a scout group, he said he would be up till 2 and 3 am, listening to cussing and inappropriate conversations. I can not describe how bad that was. He is 10. Every camping trip was bullying, after he cross over , they said it was a right of passage to be bullied. Now my daughter is in a sea scout group she was chose to lead a weekend trip ,and none of the other scouts would get up, they didn’t want to clean the area, she said, I had to give directions all weekend, barking orders, no help. There was a special needs kid who talked continually, and she was expected to handle her, and not get overloaded, there were girls talking up at 2am, she had set her clock for 6.30 but then the other 7 would not get out of bed, and ignored her… It was her first trip with them, and it was overwhelming.. I don’t’ want to be the bad guy , crazy mom.. I am looking for help. She said she felt like a babysitter all weekend. This is a ‘YOUTH LEAD’ thing, so she was expected to handle all the issues. Then , when she said enough… I have to ride back in peace, I am overloaded , and she was stressed, they said she was being a bully.. My daughter is the last to bully, but parenting 7 teens for a weekend , was a bit much. How do you set rules on wake up and sleep? Is it her responsibility to get them up, assign chores, make sure they are ready? What do you do when others don’t follow the rules? At both of these groups, they say.. they are youth lead.. those words to me, mean my kids are not safe, they can’t enjoy their trips for parenting other kids. please help advise me.

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