A troop committee chair writes:
Our Scoutmaster wants to change our campout schedule so that instead of having monthly campouts, the troop would camp every other month, and do a service project in the months when there isn’t a campout. This doesn’t seem right to me – shouldn’t the Scouts be camping every month?
To start to answer your question, let’s go to the Methods of Boy Scouting and look at the Outdoor Programs method:
Boy Scouting is designed to take place outdoors. It is in the outdoor setting that Scouts share responsibilities and learn to live with one another. It is here that the skills and activities practiced at troop meetings come alive with purpose. Being close to nature helps Boy Scouts gain an appreciation for God’s handiwork and humankind’s place in it. The outdoors is the laboratory for Boy Scouts to learn ecology and practice conservation of nature’s resources.
When a troop program is working properly, the troop meets weekly and the primary purpose of these troop meetings is for the patrols to prepare for the monthly outdoor activity. Plans are made, menus and shopping lists are drawn up, skills are learned and practiced, and responsibilities are defined. It is the monthly campout where the skills and activities are put to use and come alive.
Buried in that definition, and in the process of the outdoor program, lie the larger lessons taught in Scouting. These are the lessons of teamwork, cooperation, self-reliance, leadership and helping others. It’s not just about camping – there may be other good ways to impart these lessons, but camping combines them with exposure to and appreciation for the outdoors (something lacking in most young peoples’ lives) and the fun and camaraderie that goes with being together in a remote location off the grid and away from the distractions of life.
While there is no hard and fast rule about how many campouts a troop must conduct in a year’s time, the Journey to Excellence program gives us some metrics taken from experiences by successful troops. A troop that meets the basic performance level (Bronze) holds at least four short-term campouts a year, while a high-performing troop (Gold) holds at least nine.
Another consideration favoring monthly campouts is that some of the rank requirements state that certain things must be done “on a campout”. An example would be the First Class cooking requirement to serve as your patrol’s cook on one campout. If a patrol has six Scouts, it would take a year for each one to fulfill this requirement if the troop only camped every other month. Having fewer campouts means fewer opportunities to complete these rank requirements.
As for service projects, the JTE suggests that a minimum of three projects are held annually, with Gold troops doing five or more, with one benefiting the chartered organization. (Eagle Scout leadership service projects are considered unit activities, so they would count in your total.) It’s admirable that the Scoutmaster would like to do six service projects a year, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the outdoor program.
I agree with you that the troop should be camping monthly and supplementing it with service projects, but I think the best way to sort this out is to take it to the Scouts. Ask them how often they think the troop should be camping. Lay out the reasoning I explained and ask them to interpret for themselves the meaning of the outdoor program. It’s a natural outcome of following the annual program and weekly troop meeting plans, and using the troop program planning resources. If the Scouts want to camp monthly, it’s up to the adult leadership to do the things that the adults need to do to help them make it happen.