Camping can provide many successes and experiences youth would never get to experience if not for Scouting. Camping with youth who have disabilities can be challenging. Going into the experience with insight can make the experience more successful. Here are a few tips to get parents, the Scout’s leadership, and the Scout prepared for an awesome summer experience.
The Leader’s Guide – get a hold of it and read it. You can go to any Scout Camp’s website and find the Leader’s Guide available to you. The guide explains the information needed to have a smooth camping experience at your camp of choice. Within the guide, you will learn about schedules, health lodge information, fees, swim checks, Trading Post hours of operation, dining hall special meals information, and many other things that will pertain to your Scout’s time at camp.
Unit Informational Meetings – attend them. Here you will learn about what is expected of you and your Scout prior to, during, and after the event. If you have read the specific camp’s Leader’s Guide, you will be prepared to ask questions and gather the information needed to have a successful experience. Each unit will have its own rules and requirements as well, so be prepared to add this information to your research.
Fill out all forms – in full and make sure you are detailed in completing the Strengths and Challenges form. Troop leadership may either not know your Scout or know him/her well. The form will help you “paint a picture” of your Scout and provide valuable information to those who will be with your Scout for the duration of the camping event. Fill out the dietary information form in full, especially if your Scout has special needs in this area. Fill out the medical forms and attach added information as needed. Again, the medical lodge health officers will most likely not be familiar with your Scout. The information you provide on the health forms and additional pages may mean the difference between an awesome week of fun or a dismal experience.
Pre-work for advancement success – if during the week, your Scout will be working on advancement requirements or merit badge requirements, work with your Scout prior to the event. Try to get some of the requirements accomplished BEFORE the classes are held. This way, the Scout with learning difficulties will have some prior knowledge and expectations as to what he/or she will learn during the classes. With that added information, the requirements will more likely be completed during camp and success always brings smiles and feelings of accomplishment. This boosts the fun factor and the self-concept factor up a few notches!
Get a preview – If camp is far away, go online and do a satellite tour of the camp. Locate buildings according to the information in the Leader’s Guide and take the virtual tour. If possible, get yourself and your Scout physically to camp beforehand and tour sites of interest; speak with the Camp Director and possibly staff members and get to know these Scouters before the actual week of camp begins.
Speak with leadership – either on the phone or face to face. Encourage your Scout to get to know the leadership, as they need to get to know your Scout. Discuss strengths and challenges, fears and concerns, expectations, and goals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek solutions together as a team.
Connect with a Peer Buddy – Your Scout may already have a peer buddy within his/her unit. If not, seek to find a Scout who shares empathy, knowledge, and willingness to assist your Scout. Many times, during the school years, youth will lean on each other for various things and become very good friends. If they are in Scouting together, team them up together as Scout and Peer Buddy. In this way, they can look after each other and help keep each other on schedule, safe, and successful. The Peer Buddy is not the same thing as the “Buddy System” buddy which entails pairing up random Scouts during a campout. The Peer Buddy system goes beyond this type of pairing. The Peer Buddy lends a helping hand and watches out for the Scout with special needs and disabilities.
For Camp Leaders
Understanding the Scout’s needs and disabilities – as a leader, you will want to sit down and talk with the parent and Scout about what will be needed and what can be expected when the Scout is especially challenged. Encourage the Scout to advocate for him/herself. This not only helps you learn about what is coming, but helps the Scout take ownership of the experience. Do this kind of “conference” as often as needed prior to departure and again during the camp out. Knowing your Scout is critical to the camp out’s success for that youth in particular. If you at some point decide you need extra adult leadership, this is the time to begin building relationships. Having done this BEFORE leaving for camp is an extra advantage for everyone concerned.
Use of technology – should not necessarily be denied. A tablet or phone may be critical for many Scouts, especially those with poor short term memory skills, challenging organizational skills, and other cognitive issues. Here’s an example of one way to utilize high and low technology. Provide a white board for all Scouts in your camp. List daily schedules, times, breaks, meals, etc. for each individual Scout. Let the Scouts who need to, take a picture of their schedules on their phones, and carry the schedules with them to help them not forget where and what they are supposed to be doing. Losing his/her phone is not on the Scout’s list of things to do. Losing papers and work folders are!! As a leader, understand the need for technology and its important uses to help keep your Scouts organized and on time to daily events. After all, don’t you utilize your calendar, alarms, and contact lists in your own phone? Think about teaching these types of skills to your Scouts. Discuss with everyone what works best and develop systems that will help your Scouts succeed!
FUN – Did someone say “Fun?” This is the bottom line for everyone! Baden Powell specifically emphasized that fun is a big part of the Scouting experience! Yes, all will learn something, and hopefully that “something” is positive and useful. EVERYONE wants to have fun! Even YOU! Don’t forget it!