Summer camp is one of Scouting’s great traditions. For youth and adult alike, it’s great to get away for a week or more, camp under the canopy of trees, enjoy the fine summer weather (yes, even the liquid sunshine!), and get back in touch with the great outdoors and what’s really important.
However, most camps are set up just like school. Scouts are up and off to breakfast, then fill their days with a schedule of classes. There’s a short break for lunch. Dinnertime comes around, and there are more merit badge opportunities in the evening. If a Scout wants to work really hard, he can earn seven or eight merit badges.
Is that the point of going to camp?
I heard an interview with the director of a different kind of camp – a Boys and Girls Clubs camp – who said their campers do many of the same things as our Scouts do. They ride horses, go canoeing, shoot archery, and hike. But they don’t work on merit badges – they do it just for fun.
One assistant Scoutmaster told his Scouts and parents that the boys should take as many merit badges as they have the time and ambition for. Those who only do four or fewer merit badges, he said, “get bored” at camp.
In the summer before his senior year, my son went to camp, not to earn merit badges, but to enjoy the great outdoors and the facilities at the camp. He did a few merit badges – Scoutcraft, Bugling and Canoeing among them – but not because he needed the badges. He did them for fun. And in the free periods, he sat under the trees and read, or went for walks around the camp. He wasn’t bored – he found plenty to do, or perhaps more importantly, to not do.
Summer camp can be a great opportunity to load up on a Scout’s merit badge count, or to earn some of the harder-to-find ones. For younger Scouts, this can build confidence and satisfaction with the achievement he experiences. And we do have the advantage that a Scout will have something to show for his week besides a suntan. But it is also an opportunity to get back to what’s really important – finding oneself, having fun and just being outdoors.