Will it be chaotic? Yes. Will it be stressful? It can be. Will it be worth it? Totally.
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All day camps are a little different, depending on your council and camp. But they all share a common theme: Day-camp programs help make Cub Scouting a more positive experience for boys and girls. Three Cub Scouting experts share why:
A Time to Try New Things
When is the last time your son or daughter played a human battleship game on a sand volleyball court? Creative day-camp programs — typically themed with zany topics like superheroes or pirates — go beyond the activities your kids typically experience in school.
“School programs can have restrictions,” says Jennifer Mooney, Cub Scout camping director for the Cascade Pacific Council. “The goal of a great day-camp program focuses on fun more than anything. Those silly games and songs are going to be the things kids keep talking about all summer long. Day camp is the time and place for kids to be kids.”
Unstructured Outdoor Play
Don’t be confused by the word “program” in your day-camp schedule. Yes, there will be structured activities and, often, different stations for Scouts. But sometimes, “you can have 20 awesome activities planned, and all the kids want to do is pick up sticks or rocks. And that’s OK,” says Amy Hutcherson, den leader and former Cub Scout specialist at the BSA’s national service center.
At day camp, kids are unplugged and outdoors, where they can explore and use their creativity. “This is when they can experience unstructured play in a safe environment,” Hutcherson says.
While it might seem counterintuitive to unstructured play, day camp is often a time for Cub Scouts to complete hard-to-accomplish advancement activities like shooting sports.
In fact, activities that help complete advancement requirements are in high demand among den leaders, Mooney says. “Den leaders want Cub Scouts to have a chance to complete some of the advancement requirements that they can’t offer on their own outside of a camp environment. But kids, on the other hand, just want to have fun. I’ve found that it’s key to put fun first, and advancement is a bonus.”
Advancement helps whet a Scout’s appetite for achieving even more in Cub Scouting. “Offering those advancement opportunities and awards can help keep Scouts engaged, so long as they think they’re being rewarded for just having fun,” Hutcherson says.
The Power of Peer Pressure
Is your son or daughter reluctant toward certain activities, say, swimming or shooting sports? Being around other peers in a day-camp program helps encourage boys and girls to try things they might normally shy away from, Hutcherson says.
“Lots of kids are shy, especially with new experiences. When they see how much fun other kids are having, I’ve found that they’re more likely to give new things a try.”
Getting Parents Involved
Most day-camp programs encourage parent involvement or, at the least, parent attendance during special activities — such as final programs on the last day. Don’t miss out!
“This is a time for Cub Scouts to really show off what they’re doing,” says Dennis Kampa, a Rocky Mountain Council volunteer who has taught Day Camp School for more than two decades. Kampa encourages parents to go one step further and volunteer to help out at camp. “There’s a reason your kid joined Cub Scouts. Shouldn’t you be a part of that delivery system?”
Getting involved will help ease some of your own fears, especially if this is your son or daughter’s first day camp. This is also a chance for parents to meet and spend time with their son’s leaders; plus, parents get a chance to connect with each other outside of their typical den environment.
Most day camps use youth staff to run stations for Cub Scouts. “When we train youth staff right, they are excited for Scouting and getting outside,” Mooney says.
This enthusiasm can be contagious to the younger Scouts, which means many Cub Scouts complete day camp with a renewed excitement for Scouting and staying with the program.
“They want to be like the older Scouts they met at camp. Some of the kids even make it a goal to return to camp to work on staff when they’re older,” Mooney says.
An Entryway to Camping
The day-camp program serves as a Cub Scout’s first experience in the world of camping — except you get to go home at night.
“Day camp is an important retention tool for many reasons, but one is that it helps families decide if resident camping is a good next step as the Scout ages,” Mooney explains.
Connecting to the Community
Many day-camp programs offer a service-related activity for Scouts, such as rebuilding a bridge or cleaning up a campsite. Hutcherson finds that Scouts love working together on projects of this nature. “It gives them a sense of purpose and helps instill some of the important Scouting values early on,” she says.
When your pack recruited new Cub Scouts last fall (or even earlier this spring), leaders promised excitement, fun, outdoors and advancement. Day-camp programs offer all of this in one week.
“Camp helps deliver these promises,” says Mooney.
Hutcherson agrees: “If we don’t keep the promises we made at recruiting time, it’s hard to keep kids involved and coming back for more.”
The Bigger Picture
“Sometimes parents and kids don’t know that there’s more to Scouting than their den or pack,” says Mooney. “When they’re at day camp, meeting families and kids from other parts of their city, they realize that they’re a part of something much bigger. They come to understand that Scouting is much more than just their circle, and they share something in common with a lot of other kids.”