How to head off homesickness before and during resident camp

THE ROAD TO HOMESICKNESS is paved with good intentions, as James Feuerstein discovered last summer at Akelaland, the Cub Scout camp he directs for Pennsylvania’s Minsi Trails Council. SCMayJune13_Homesick

“We had a boy who was doing great,” Feuerstein says. “It was about Wednesday, and his grandparents sent him a collage where they spelled out ‘We Miss You’ with pictures of his pets and his grandparents and all of his cousins and everyone. As soon as the boy opened it up, he burst into tears and had to be taken to see his grandparents.”

While most boys have a great time at Cub Scout and Webelos Scout resident camp, Feuerstein’s story demonstrates that homesickness can lurk behind every tree in the woods. Fortunately, you as a den leader, Cubmaster, or parent can take simple steps to ensure that smiles are more plentiful than tears among your Scouts.

First, explain this rule to families: No “We Miss You” collages!

That doesn’t mean that mail is bad, though. When Steven Straub ran the Lincoln Heritage Council’s resident camp program in southern Indiana, he installed a mailbox in the camp office where leaders could deposit letters brought from home. But he emphasized in pre-camp materials that family members should express pride in their Scouts rather than write anything that might encourage homesickness. “Say, ‘You’re going to have a great experience; I’m glad you’re having this time away,’” he says.

Of course, the “away” part can be a challenge for some boys since very little about camp is like home. But Straub and Feuerstein say there are several ways you can minimize the differences—or at least the surprises.

Surprises Are Bad
Try, if possible, to visit the facility before camp starts. This could be at a pre-camp meeting or open house, but it could also be during another council event or even on a pack campout. Boys who know their way around camp will be more confident when they arrive for summer camp.

At the very least, parents should figure out how to get to the facility, because some camps can be hard to find. “If you’ve got the time, MapQuest it and drive out,” Straub says. When boys know what to expect—and parents know how to find the camp—everyone’s stress level goes down.

Feuerstein encourages packs with younger boys to visit the camp facility in the offseason. “Sometimes moms and dads have this terrible idea of what camp is going to be like,” he says. “Camp has changed a lot in the past few years, so parents’ experience of camp is not necessarily reflective of what Scout camps are like today.”

Especially if Mom or Dad won’t be attending resident camp, as is often the case with Webelos Scouts, it’s important that boys spend some nights away from home, even if it’s at a grandparent’s house or with a friend down the street. “They’re getting a chance to see somebody else’s house, live somewhere else, spend a little time away from their parents, and find out they can have a good time and come back home again,” Feuerstein says.

Friends Are Good
Straub recommends that packs attend camp together rather than have boys attend different sessions. “If you can go with the rest of your pack, there’s security for the boys because they’ll at least know somebody else there, and you as an adult will know somebody else there,” he says. “That can make for a little more successful experience. If you have trouble, you’ve got another parent or adult you can lean on for help.”

He also recommends letting the camp know about other special requests. He once had a family show up who asked to camp with their cousins from another pack. While he was happy to accommodate them, he wished he’d known before check-in day. “Any program director or camp director worth their salt wants the kid to have a positive experience,” he says.

The Staff Can Help
Both Straub and Feuerstein emphasize that pack leaders should reach out to camp staff if they’re having problems with homesickness. “I identified five or six kids on staff who were really good at dealing with this issue,” Straub says. “There are some kids who are really good at talking to other kids.”

Feuerstein, meanwhile, offers extra help to packs that are camping for the first time, or whose experienced camp leaders have moved on to Boy Scouting. “We always have staff to help them,” he says. “They go out and visit them at night and help them get a fire going.”

Besides lighting fires, caring staff members, along with confident pack leaders, can kindle a love for camping that will last a lifetime and that might even counteract the effects of those “We Miss You” collages.


HOW DO YOU HELP EASE YOUR SCOUTS’ HOMESICKNESS? SHARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS.

6 thoughts on “How to head off homesickness before and during resident camp

  1. First, NO CELL PHONES! I always ask that scout for his help with something special like helping to make the campfire or something

  2. We always have some nice warm “Home Sick” tea on hand. You mix in a little sugar, some honey, with just a pitch of lemon. It works wonders. Sometimes a cookie will make the tea work faster. Best served before 9PM or any time the moon is still low in the sky.

  3. We have found that most home sickness starts in the evenings after all merit badge classes and other activities are over for the day. Try to have plans for the evening hours before lights out. Knot tying competitions and other Scout skills in a competitive format help relieve.the causes of home sickness.

  4. As a Child I went to a boarding school at the young age of 13 and the homesickness was very hard for me to over come. During my first month there it hit really hard I was scared to call home. The times I would start to cry or get upset was when I was left to my one devices (study hall) my mind would wonder and then next thing you know hear are the tears. What I learned from this is keep them buzzy and active most importantly at the beginning you want them to fall asleep before there heads hit the pillow. so lots of group time before bed sing dance race.

    Do not worry you can rest up when you get back to work

  5. Make sure to tell all the adults and Senior Scouts that they are NOT to loan their cell phones to any of the scouts. It’s easy to tell everyone that the scouts are not to have a phone, but it’s not so easy to get across to the adults that it includes THEIR phones too.

    With the ease of texting and social media, try to funnel communications with parents back home through a single person. Any adult sending messages back to friends that the scouts are having trouble adjusting will upset whatever strides you are making in getting the scouts to work through their homesickness. As soon as parents arrive to “check up” on their scout, the camp experience ends for that scout as he climbs in the car to go home.

    Build a campfire every night. When the scouts spin down in the evening and have an opportunity to think about where they are, a fire gives them something to stare at and poke at and throw things in and remember what they did during the day. It’s a real conversation starter for the scouts.

    S’mores are a great idea in the evening, especially during the first couple of days. They get a sugar rush for about an hour then they crash and are easy to send to bed.

  6. I had a kid on one of my campouts who was homesick every day. Just have him do something to take it off his mind. Have him play a game, or take a shower, or, if nothing works, just let him have some time to himself. They may ask to call home. Don’t let them call home, for it will make them feel worse.

    One reason may be that they can’t sleep. Maybe lend them an extra pillow, or an air mattress. And always make sure that if they have any medications that they take them properly.

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