Tranquility Base: A Safe Space

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” said Neil Armstrong as he landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. Tranquility Base, named by Armstrong, became a very famous area in the Sea of Tranquility during those exciting space travel years. You can just imagine it: how peaceful, quiet, and beautiful in its desolation. Fast forward 50 years and we have a different idea of Tranquility Base in Scouts BSA. This may just be the game changer for you and your outdoor camping experience with those individuals with sensory issues. The Tranquility Base Scouts now know is a very different place this side of the moon!

“This base is for those who need the time to recharge, allowing them to become more able to reengage in activities, during events. Tranquility Base is a preventive opportunity, rather than a reactive opportunity. It’s a sensory- friendly place to be,” says Scott Hellen, who coordinated special needs support at the 2017 and 2019 Jamborees at the Summit.

So, what exactly is a Tranquility Base? Britt Flather, an RN and camp nurse, says Tranquility Base is a necessity at any Scout camp. Those who experience sensory overload can stop at the Base and spend time discharging and recharging. Flather notes that leaders will bring a camp participant suffering a melt down or other behavioral difficulty to the camp medical headquarters to be “treated.” Flather emphasizes, “When a leader brings us a Scout who is having these types of issues, it takes the medical personnel away from the real medical emergencies.” Those who experience hypersensitive reactions to noise levels, temperature, or other distractions, need intervention but not medical attention. This is where Tranquility Base becomes a lifesaver in a different sense of the word. 

In years past, Flather said, when she worked as a medical officer at Scout camps, she used to provide what she called a “retreat” area for those with sensory needs. She always brought a kit with her and set it up apart from the medical area. Here a Scout could rest and relax, play cards, squish play dough, build Lego towers, cool off with a portable fan, possibly with hearing protectors or listening to soothing music. When the Scout had regained composure, he went back to his Scout unit and was able to participate fully in activities. The retreat area was monitored, just like the medical tent, but no band aids or antiseptics were needed.

Rick Shema, the founder and past committee chair of Gifted and Physically Disabled Scouts (GAPS) for Aloha Council, points out that both leaders and parents of sensitive participants should be tuned in to their behaviors and direct them to Tranquility Base before uncontrolled behavior develops. “If we know our Scouts well enough, we should be able to sense impending meltdowns,” Shema said.

It’s important for all of us to understand that this area is NOT a punishment of any sort. A Scout should be able to rejoin the group with NO repercussions. “This is not a punishment, nor is it a time out. No one needs to be embarrassed.” He also emphasized that there should always be adults monitoring Tranquility Base. There will be times when the Base doesn’t work, and adults will need to be watchful.

Tranquility Base is an easy thing to set up and take down, and it could all fit into a large 27 gallon plastic tote. The “base” itself can be set up inside a beach shade tent or a camping tent. Set the tent up according to the needs of your Scouts, but here are ideas for equipment to include:

  • Laminated Handouts with explanation of area use and guidelines
  • Laminated DisAbilities Awareness flyers from your district/council
  • Paper/pen activities for drawing/coloring
  • Paper airplane activities
  • Lego buckets
  • Play Doh or similar
  • Noise cancellation ear protectors
  • Visual Music on a laptop or tablet
  • Weighted blankets/vests
  • Rotating wall lights/mirror balls
  • Scent diffuser (essential oils)
  • Sorting items and containers (beads, small parts)
  • Puzzles
  • Sensory texture items (rough, smooth, soft)
  • Rice/sand box/bean bag plush toys
  • Stress balls/ squishy calming tools
  • Repetitive action activities (Newton’s cradle ball balance, lava flow hourglass, puzzle cubes)
  • Camp sized table and chairs

Watch these videos to see how Britt Flather has set up Tranquility Base:

Rick Shema emphasizes that Tranquility Base can be as simple or as complex as needed. His own son was quite comfortable in a cocoon hammock away from the group for about 15 or 20 minutes. Once he restored his composure, he could attend to the activities taking place.

At the Jamborees, Scott Hellen found that not only Scouts with sensory needs used it, but also staffers used it to vent some steam and regroup. This was an added, unforeseen benefit of what can essentially become an area of great relief for many. After all, sensory issues do not go away. They remain with us for a lifetime. It’s the manner in which we react to these issues that can make or break someone’s day. Hellen suggests the area be staffed with leaders from your DisAbilities Awareness committees, youth and adults who are interested in helping others, those with different abilities themselves, and parents who understand sensory needs. Have a sign up sheet at the event for staffing shifts.

Hellen’s ultimate goal for Tranquility Base is to consistently label an area as “Tranquility Base” in all camps and councils. “If we all have Tranquility Bases within our councils, then we can become consistent across the nation. Scouts can go anywhere and find a Tranquility Base set up, knowing its purpose.” Hellen notes.

Set up a Tranquility Base at your unit, district and council events. Advertise it at events such as Scout Fair or District Camp-o-rees. Get people familiar with setting one up and let them create a Tranquility Base to meet the needs of their Scouts and leaders. The calming items, sensory soothers, and comforting enclosure of the base will help Scouts deal with their own distinctive traits. Experience in managing one’s conflicts successfully can help a Scout mature and grow, developing character and confidence.