How do you help Scouts keep the camp kitchen clean?

Scouts get fired up by much of what happens on a campout — hiking, exploring, games. Washing dishes? Not so much. They usually aren’t wild about hauling water, either — or storing food and carrying out trash.

As long as chores need to be done, help your Scouts devise ways to make tasks fast, fair and maybe even fun.

A key to getting there can be a chore chart — a simple grid dividing up duties.

Some leaders rely on chore charts to help teach organization, leadership and responsibility. Others hardly use them at all. Consider the experiences of two leaders coming from different ends of the chore-chart spectrum.

The Chore Chart

Lisa Battern is Scoutmaster of girl Troop 319 in Edmonds, Wash. She and her husband have been active in Scouting for 18 years, serving units in Germany, Nebraska and Washington. Their four sons are Eagles, so she has been around plenty of Scouts and plenty of dirty dishes.

Before a camping trip, Battern assists the troop’s senior patrol leader in filling out a chore chart, first making cooking assignments to Scouts with advancement needs for ranks or merit badges. Next, they pencil in the names of Scouts who will be assistant cooks, dishwashers, rinsers and dryers in a round-robin style, so no one repeats the same chore. The chart goes inside a plastic bag to protect it from weather and, once in camp, is prominently posted in the cooking/cleaning area.

Her experience has led away from having Scouts wash their own plates, cups and silverware, though each Scout does preclean his or her own items by using a bucket of hot water at the front of the wash line.

“We aectionately call that the Yum-Yum Bucket,” she laughs.

A rubber spatula comes in handy for scraping plates. Battern is hands- on in helping Scouts cook and set up wash lines.

“I provide them with hints that will make their efforts more successful, and if I am not needed elsewhere, I ask if they would like an extra pair of hands,” she says. “By mentoring and being a role model, my actions help to develop those same traits in my Scouts.”

She sees kitchen duties as a means of fostering an environment that values help and respect.

Plan Ahead to Minimize Chores

Now, let’s look across the country at Venturing Crew 152 in Blacksburg, Va. Youth there manage without a duty roster at all, even on extended treks along the Appalachian Trail and while exploring national parks in Utah and Canada.

Advisor Jeff Marion says minimizing chores starts with meal planning. The crew buys freeze-dried dinner ingredients in bulk in No. 10 cans. Before a trip, each crew member packs individual meals by adding a cup of freeze-dried dinner mix to a self-sealing plastic bag and then adding a crushed ramen noodle cake.

(Photo by W. Garth Dowling)

Meal preparation in the field requires little more than adding water to individual dinner bags and letting them stand for a couple of minutes.

“We eat out of the bags, so no dishes to wash,” Marion says.

Since the crew uses lightweight backpacking stoves rather than campfires, there are no wood-gathering or fire-management chores. To simplify matters further, Venturers gather and filter their own water.

Similarly, each breakfast portion consists of a cup of cereal mixed with high-protein powder in a self-sealing bag. Add cold water and eat directly from the bag.

The crew organizes lunches on an individual basis, too, with Venturers loading and carrying their own bags of nuts, chocolate bits, dried fruit, crackers and whatever else they are willing to carry.

The crew leader polls the group on how far they want to hike each day and where to make camp. Adult leaders are consulted but do not vote. The Venturers also decide as a group what to do along the way: side hike to a vista, swim in a lake, or arrive at a campsite early enough to relax and enjoy being in a new place well before dark.

The closest the crew gets to a chore chart is assigning the jobs of navigator and co-navigator, responsible for map reading and route decisions. The following day, the co-navigator becomes the navigator, rotating the positions through the crew so everyone gets to serve.

Advise; Don’t Decide

Even with finding the way, Marion and other adult leaders support their Scouts rather than make decisions for them.

“Adults do not answer any navigation-related questions — these are directed to the two navigators,” he says. “If they head down a wrong trail, we’ve been known to let them walk 10 or 15 minutes before asking if they might want to reconsider where they are going.”

Though they’ve chosen different approaches to seeing that chores get done, Battern and Marion would agree that the Leading EDGE technique is at the heart of their success as they Explain what needs to happen in camp, Demonstrate how that can be done, Guide Scouts to success and then Enable them to move forward on their own.

ROBERT BIRKBY is author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the BSA’s Fieldbook and the newest edition of the Conservation Handbook. Find him at

One more thing: A “Clean Camp” in 1911

It took the early Scouts a while to settle on the chore chart as a tool for managing a camp kitchen and even to figure out an appropriate way to wash dishes. In 1911, the first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook says only this:

“First, fill the frying-pan with water, place over the fire and let it boil. Pour out water and you will find the pan has practically cleaned itself. Clean the griddle with sand and water. Greasy knives and forks may be cleaned by jabbing them into the ground. After all grease is gotten rid of, wash in hot water and dry with cloth.”

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