Prepare 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.

“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, look up directions 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.

12 Comments

  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.

  7. For summer camp we greatly discourage any family visits until Friday night. Even if you scout won’t be bothered by your visit, it may trigger another scout.

    We also have a scoutmaster fund of cash. Home sickness usually hits in the evening when they are tired and bored. Frequently dehydration is a factor too. A little cash is quietly given to one of the senior scouts to walk all the way fown to the trading post with the homesick scout. They both get slushy, etc. That gives the homesick scout a long distraction, some attention from another scout, and a dose of water. Also the delay gives the other scouts a chance to quiet down so the homesick scout can more easily fit in with the others.
    At camp in the evening we encourage the senior scouts to sign off advancement ( we discourage the adults), teach troop tradition card games, and make sure the fire is going.

  8. One thing that I’ve found is a sure-fire trigger for homesickness is stomach issues. Some younger scouts (and even new leaders) are reluctant to use the pit latrines that are ubiquitous in scout camps across the country. After a few days, withholding gives way to constipation, which causes stomach cramps and other GI upset.

    My favorite way to combat that is to ask at breakfast “Has everyone pooped since we got to camp?” You’ve never seen a group of boys laugh their way through a meal more than when a leader casually drops the word “poop” into conversation. If a scout has been withholding, a couple of fiber one bars usually do the trick.

  9. After 10 years on camp staff, there are 1000 reasons why a Scout “needs” to call home. The answer is, “As soon as the phone is fixed, we’ll come get you.”

    That being said, the secret is buddy them up, and keep them busy. We went to Yawgoog Scout Reservation last summer for their 100th anniversary. BP’s granddaughter Gill Clay was there. All the Scouts talked about after areas closed was how cool it was that she was there for about 10 minutes. Then, it was time for night hikes, lantern light lashings, games, and camp fires. You have to plan ahead to keep them busy.

    Some parents told me outright, their son is bringing their phone to camp. Fine. As soon as we got to camp, the Scouts put them away for the week.

    Letting a homesick Scout call home makes them more homesick.

    We let them cook something every night at camp. S’mores. Foil pack seasoned shrimp, Dutch oven dump cake. The options are endless, the secret is being prepared. It wasn’t easy herding 14 people onto a plane to go to camp 1700 miles from home with everything we would need. The camp was VERY gracious about loaning us items, and the staff bent over backwards, and were top notch, which is why we are going back this summer.

    Thinks to take: decks of cards, cord, checkers sets, frisbees, binoculars, chalk, pencils, paper, a cooler to stock with ice and drinks, snack foods, a song book, trivia cards, patches to trade, or give out for good deeds, board games, clothes pins (for the stealth game!) where you sneakily have to pin it on someone without gettting caught. Markers, laundry detergent (yes, enlist scouts for primitive laundry duty! Lol.

    Again, as with anything, plan. Plan. Plan.

  10. 1. For us, most homesickness hits Monday night after supper chow.
    2. No cell phones, or calls to or from Scout.
    3. No new Scout sleeps alone, they will bunk with another new Scout.
    4. Plan on games that a 10-11 year old is interested in. Remember, 2 months ago he was a cub scout. Don’t let the boy scout uniform fool you.
    5. Have a plan, get your Scout leaders on board with it from now.
    Remember, most likely these boys have never been away from home, let alone for 7 days of boy scout camp.
    6. Remember, boys today do not have the maturity we did back in the 50’s and 60’s when we were Scouts. Help them mature slowly at their own pace.
    7. Re-assure the parents their scout will be fine, & if parents get homesick, call you anytime, but not the new Scout.
    8. Remind them that scout camp is a rite of passage, and starts the transition from boyhood into manhood.
    9. I try to put their mind at ease, that as Scoutmaster, I’ve been dealing with home sick Boy Scouts for 17 years, haven’t had one walk home yet!
    10. Lastly,NEVER have parents tell their scout that, “if you get homesick I’ll come get you!” Don’t get sentimental during departure from home, tell your Scout you love him, and he’ll be fine and know that he will have a great time.
    See you when you get back.

  11. Placebonal. I put orange tic tacs in an old prescription container and when kids “felt bad” and needed to call mom, I gave them two Placebonal and most times it worked like a charm.

  12. In about 2 months, I’ll be headed to Jamboree, where data flies out of there by the terabyte. Where you can’t walk 10ft without running into an ATT hotspot – conveniently mounted at eye level. At 2015 NOAC – 15,000 Arrowmen lit up an entire arena. With what? The lights on their cell phones!

    Social media, pictures, posts, tweets, snaps, instagrams… all being encouraged for Jambo. My son went in ’13, we were getting daily updates from the SM.

    Photography merit badge? How many kids even know they make cameras as stand-alone devices these days? Much less has one?

    We were discussing this at this weekends camp out. We’re not naive to think we can stop it. Even if we say “no” – unless we shake down every boy before they get on a bus, there’s no way to know.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of parent phone calls, where they boys were war-texting mom, freaking out over bugs, and wanting to go home. (Brothers, and one not a first year!). I told this mother that if she receives another message or call, the first thing she must ask is “Did you talk to anyone at camp”. I thanked her for her call, but told her I would not accept another call if they haven’t come to me first.

    All we can do is educate our parents and our Scouts. It’s high on the agenda of this weeks’ parents meeting.

    Back to Jambo… Shakedown weekend last week, and what happened? The SM got a call from a parent from a boy who called her with a problem with another Scout.

    Our message to Jambo Scouts will be (essentially) the same message to my home Troop Scout: Your parents didn’t pay a lot of money ($1650 for our Jambo contingent) for you to sit on a cell phone for 10 days. Scouts are being told that we are not to see phones essentially during the day – when they’re supposed to be doing Scout things. Not at the trading posts, not during sessions. Not around camp when there’s things to be done. After they’re released to tents? We wouldn’t know anyway.

    And of course… the message on communications home. Both Scouts AND parents!

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