Every so often adults attending Scout camping trips just don’t get it (Scouting that is).
I walk into camp and find them sitting in their son’s tent organizing their son’s gear and maybe the tent mate’s gear also or over in his son’s patrol area getting involved in making scrambled eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches.
This really sets off the alarm bells in my head. Scout camping is about Scouts and Patrols operating independent of adult interference and ‘help’. Frankly this is so important that adults who don’t get it must either change or move on.
Now I do encourage as many adults on campouts and summer camps as possible. My committee chairman and I are on the same page about this and we use the time for informal adult leader training. Summer camp is an excellent time to do this. Weekend campouts can be too short and too busy for this; especially away from the Scouts.
We try to be very pointed with instructions for new adults; stay here in the adult leader area, do things this way, and don’t go over there. The right sort of folks will hang back and watch the current leaders to see how things are done. But sometimes somebody just doesn’t get it. They have their own agenda and walk all over your normal expectations. When this happens you have to get real direct and specific:
1. Unless there’s an emergency adult leaders stay out of patrol camping areas. I will often send a Patrol Leader or the Senior Patrol Leader over there but we adults generally stay away.
2. Stay out of the Scout’s tents! Just stay out; including your son’s tent! Don’t even think about it unless there is an issue that requires your intervention and you are asked to intervene. (This almost never happens.) The main exception to this would be a sick Scout who really does need some adult assistance.
3. Quickly and efficiently establish the adult area at any camp AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Give them a place to go. Set up the adult chairs and adult cooking area and TELL any new leaders where they may put their tents. This is best handled by the Senior Patrol Leader but that may not always work for various reasons. The Scoutmaster should make sure that this is happening. Whenever possible the adult area should be out of direct sight of the patrol areas.
4. If you have a troop trailer don’t allow adults inside it at any camp or campout. If the adults need to do some construction or work in there, do it at home. Otherwise they will just be getting in the way of the Quartermaster.
5. I prefer setting up two campfires; one for adults and one for Scouts. The Scouts invite us to join them in the evening. If you are in a Campsite with only one fire ring the Scouts are in close and adults sit together way in the back.
6. During Sunday morning reflection time no adults speak unless, or until the SPL directs including the Scoutmaster. As is my prerogative, I sometimes close, but not always.
7. If a Scout asks an adult a question they send him to their Patrol Leader. If a Patrol Leader asks a question send him to the Senior Patrol Leader. If the Senior Patrol Leader asks a question send him to the Scoutmaster.
8. Do not find reasons to gather the troop together on weekend campouts: everything should revolve around the patrol.
I also set expectations outside of camping trips by being as clear as possible about these things:
1. Baden-Powell said “Never do for a Scout what he can do for himself.” No adult leader will ever instruct a Scout or a Scout Patrol if there is a competent boy leader available. Most adults don’t mind this too much because they really aren’t teachers at heart. The problem comes when they want to jump in at the end of the session and fill in what the boy leaders “forgot”. No way. The Scouts move on from instructional sessions to other activities without the adults “helping”. As Scoutmaster I am responsible for the quality of instruction but I am more interested in Scouts doing the instructing than the instructing being perfect. So long as Scouts are getting instruction without limbs being cut off or someone being poisoned I leave well enough alone.
2. Scouts do their own shopping for food for camping trips. (Boy this one is hard!) I do my best to tell parents to let the Scouts shop for food for camping trips by themselves. Once the boys get the idea they’ll attempt to maintain their autonomy, but you often must help them out in the beginning.
Sometimes adults respond to my methods with a fair amount of skepticism and or disbelief so I tell lots of reassuring stories. I tell stories about Scouts that succeeded because they learned to be self sufficient, about Scouts who solved their own problems and that no Scout ever starved to death on a weekend campout. I’m old now so I have lots and lots of stories. If you are younger you can borrow my stories or make some up. Ok, don’t make up stories but you can stretch them to make a point 🙂
Adults who want to be more involved with their sons while we are camping may feel short-changed by the way we do things. We do have an annual family campout every year where families camp together rather than patrols. Dads can camp with their sons; mom and dad can bring their Scout, grandma, aunts and uncles and all the kids or whoever. I don’t run this trip, the committee does. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and we always have a blast. The moms cook for the boys, dads set up their mansion tents and this seems to satisfy their desire to be out camping with the boys until the next year.
There’s usually a decisive event that convinces an adult to get involved in Scouting. We had 12 adults on our January backpacking hike, many of them new to the Troop. Of that twelve two are now assistant Scoutmasters, two others are active committee members.
On this trip we were in two campsites and we had two campfires. The adults gathered at their fire ring until almost midnight and had a great time. After hiking all day the Scouts put their fire out around 10pm and went to bed.
I think that sitting up around that campfire was a big part of the experience that convinced four new adults to become more involved in Scouting.