Of all the schools the camp is far and away the best for teaching… A week of this life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room, valuable though that may be.Robert Baden-Powell, Aids to Scoutmastership, 1920.
This article is the first in a series of three on SND planning for long-term camp that appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Abilities Digest.
For many, camp is a place of fun and excitement, and experienced Scouts and Scouters look forward to the great adventures they are going to have in that week away from home. For new Scouts, Scouts with special needs or disabilities (SND), and their parents, camp represents a week away from the safety of routine and the known. Parents can reduce the stress and anxiety with preparation and planning, ensuring a positive, life-changing experience.
When a Scout with a special need or disability goes to long-term camp, communication between parent, unit leaders and camp staff will be vital. Ideally, unit leadership will have had the opportunity to have been on several weekend or short-term camp-outs with the Scout. As many experienced unit leaders know, long-term camp is a very different experience from a weekend camp out. It is important to anticipate a Scout’s particular disabilities and behaviors that could arise in the different environment of a long-term camp setting.
Particular scouts may have unique issues that must be taken into consideration. Are there triggers that cause a Scout to run off or disappear without letting others know? When frustrated, do they act out or are they prone to emotional outbursts? Are there medications leaders need to be aware of? Information about medications is essential for unit and leadership planning purposes. Parents must speak frankly with unit leaders about their Scout’s known issues and what has worked for them to mitigate the circumstances. Do not be afraid to discuss leadership concerns with the parents, or vice versa. This is a team effort.
As a parent preparing to send your Scout to camp, it is important to set expectations for your Scout. Are you sending them to camp to have a good time or are you sending them to camp to return with as many merit badges as possible? Take time to discuss with your Scout what the expectations might be in camp; who will be their buddy; which adult do they go to if they are feeling stressed out or homesick or just need additional guidance. Let them know that they will most likely experience being homesick and that it will be OK.
All long-term camps are required to provide a leaders’ guide; these are generally found in the same location as camp registration information. Councils usually conduct an information session, either in person or as a webinar, to help prepare unit leaders and parents for their camp and camp program. General information in the leaders’ guides include maps, menus, merit badge opportunities, daily schedules, additional programs, what to bring and what not to bring to camp, rules and regulations, as well as contact information for key staff. Generally, this document will be one of the best resources before and during camp.
Look in advance at the merit badges your Scout plans to earn and take the time to work on any pre-requirements at home in advance. Scouts with compromised manual dexterity may prefer to do research using internet and computers before camp, and avoid the less-familiar challenges of using books and writing utensils at camp. The anxiety arising from unfamiliar study styles can be the difference between a completed merit badge and a partial. Also review the camp merit badge schedule to make sure your Scout has enough time to get to and from the unit’s campsite and merit badge sites. It is not necessary to sign up for every merit badge time slot, especially if the Scout may need extra time due to mobility issues or other reasons. Consider arranging a camp visit before check-in to help identify issues that impact the Scout and work out viable solutions beforehand. Parents should be sure to discuss these concerns with the unit leadership, as well as tips and plans for working with your child. You are your Scout’s best advocate.