Where's the Enthusiasm?
Ask a boy today if he'd like to go spend a week in the woods away from civilization, and you're going to get variety of responses. Unfortunately, many of those will be negative. Ask a kid the same question in the 1930's, and you'd get a much more positive response overall. Granted, I didn't live in the '30s, but my journey to Rediscover Scouting has led me read many old books, magazines, and listen to the stories of older men who lived in Scouting's past. It is obvious to anyone who looks that teens and boys were a lot more into that sort of thing as a whole.
“Why were they so interested in camping?” That is the wrong question.
“Why are we not so excited about camping today?” That is the right one.
You see, back when it was founded, Scouting (camping in particular), naturally appealed to just about every young man. It had adventure, danger, discovery, industry, independence, and comradeship.
Now, here's the kicker: Fundamentally, boys have not changed since then. All of these things still appeal to young men and Camping is still exciting to them. I know this because I have seen it! You ask any modern-day Scouter who had an ordinary Scout camping trip hit the sweet spot and has seen the excitement and joy in the faces of his Scouts.
Why then, is camping not exciting across today's culture of young men? We know there is a frigid attitude toward camping in general, but we also know that specific examples of camping done right almost never fail to entertain, excite, and inspire. These things seem contradictory!
Modern Irresponsible Entertainment
There are two explanations for this that I see. The first one is a cultural problem: it's called cheap entertainment. By “cheap” I don't really mean “costs less money”. I mean “costs less personal investment”.
In the past, you didn't have TV, Video Games, and Computers. These things have a high entertainment to low investment ratio. Pretty much the only way to be very entertained while exercising almost no muscles in the '30s was to either read a good book or have a really good imagination. And both of these things engage the mind much more rigorously than their modern counterparts.
This modern, cheap entertainment does not make camping or any other hard-but-fun activity less entertaining (In fact, it can be much more so!), but it does make them less desirable. This is because of another human nature constant: Laziness! Yes, we all prefer to travel the path of least resistance.
Technology allows us to accomplish more with the same amount of effort. Unfortunately, we too often use it to accomplish the same amount with a lot less effort. That is an irresponsible use of technology and is therefore a cultural problem.
However, this cultural problem doesn't have to be an individual one. I know that myself and many other Scouts love costly, high-investment entertainment; it's more fun. I get a much bigger thrill canoeing down a river or roasting hot dogs on a campfire than watching the TV. Enthusiasm for this kind of thing is Deliberate and Contagious: It can be caught!
Camping is a Lost Art
The thing I want to concentrate on in this post series is the second reason why camping isn't as exciting today: bad camping habits. You see, we've forgotten How to Camp. I mean more than just the basic skills: I mean the principles of Scout Camping. We looked at the first bad habit of camping last week's post in which we discussed Purposeless Camps. Now, we're going to look at one of the ways you can turn that awesome purpose into a reality.
Camping starts in the Patrol Council Meetings and the Patrol Leader Council Meetings. It starts with a plan. If your Scouts don't know how to plan camps, don't just plan it yourself. Teach them how to do it! The Patrol Method is harder in the get-go, but it's definitely worth it!
Now the first step in the planning process is determining the purpose. We talked a little bit about the importance of having purposeful camps in the last post. In planning the purpose, you need to be specific. Look at each camping trip as a mission with a definite goal to be accomplished. This is Scouting, so your missions can be service oriented, discovery oriented, skill and proficiency oriented, and etc.
The purpose of the camp, once agreed upon and well-defined, will shape the particulars of the camp. This is what you plan next. Where do you go? Does it need a body of water for boating/swimming challenges? Does it need hiking trails? Does it need good Topographic maps for orienteering work? Does it need the absence of trails and markers for off-trail adventures? Does it need abundant wildlife for tracking and stealth goals?
The answers to this inquiry will determine an appropriate place to camp. It could be the 50-acre ranch of a willing committee member. It could be a state park, Scout park, BLM wilderness, national forest, or etc.
Now that you got the location down, you can work on the schedule. A good Scout camp plan is important to having an awesome camp. The particulars will vary widely, but there are a few things I would suggest:
Keep things moving. Variety makes a camp like the pepperoni on a dutch-oven pizza. Attack your objective from multiple directions. Don't do one, specific activity for the whole duration of the camp. Is First Aid training your objective? Do stretcher building drills, emergency reenactment scenarios, splint building competitions, etc. Get creative!
Allow some down time. Spontaneous games or activities during downtime can sometimes be a real hit and give ideas for future recreations. Just as Scout camps aren't some random party outing, they aren't military barracks either. Time to soak in the outdoors; time to experiment with a complex camp cooking recipe; time to try building a hammock or a fort out of rope, tarp, and poles: these are all things every Scout Camp should have time for.
Don't break a plan in order to do stuff like this, plan wisely so you've got the time. You'll make mistakes, sure! Every camping trip you will have a better idea of what works and what doesn't. Better yet, all of the Scouts will too. Since they are the ones doing the real planning, they can learn from their own mistakes and successes in addition to the advice of the Scout Leaders.
Scout camping is an art: it takes practice and perseverance to get better at it. It might be difficult at times, but Scouting desperately needs to Rediscover Scout Camping for what it really is. The fact that we live in the 21st century and that virtually no other Youth Movement has a real wilderness program makes it all the more vital that Scouting doesn't forget this.
Whether your great grandkids can experience Outdoor Scouting is up to you and your decisions now. True Scout Camping is something that's worth preserving.
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