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Scout Camping by Zef Klinkenbergh

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IMG_6033Scout Camping is still our best activity. We see it is a great way to create opportunities for personal development and one of the best ways to connect young people with nature all at the same time just as originally envisaged by Baden Powell.


When BP was experimenting with his Ideas to help young people develop skills to help them in life “life skills” the indoor meeting wasn’t the focal point, in fact it didn’t feature at all. Scouting started off as a camp for a small group of pals doing things for themselves including the camp “chores” (pitching tents, collecting fire wood, fire lighting, learning to cook and cooking over an open fire, cleaning and washing up) along with activities and nature hikes. BP believed that these outdoor activities were not only healthy and educational they were fun, challenging and adventurous all at the same time providing lots of unique learning opportunities for young people to develop life skills. Nothing has changed in that regard but nowadays it is called outdoor education or experiential learning and while many things have changed in the intervening 100 years the beautiful simplicity and magic of scout camping still remains much the same.


BP realised that the great outdoors throws endless challenges your way (very often because of the weather or because you are not in your usual comfort zone), how to pitch the tent in the dark, what to do when the tent blows down, how to light a fire and cook a meal on an open fire, what to do if it’s raining, how to make yourself comfortable on camp, how to find your way on a hike or having to dig deep to get to the summit and so on. To all of these challenges young people have to respond using their own initiative and their own resources, you can’t cheat or cog other people’s answers out here. You have to work something out then and there. This approach of learning by doing helps develop life skills, skills such as teamwork, problem solving, decision making, creativity, leadership and self-reliance not to mention making lifelong friendships and memories in the process.


By pure genius or pure fluke he added to this the concept of working in small groups called “patrols”. He had noticed that teenagers hung around in “gangs” and that this natural grouping of 6 -8 pals could be an ideal learning environment. Here everyone can be involved providing opportunities for leadership, skills sharing, team work as well as sense of identity and belonging. When a patrol of young people organise and run their own camps and outdoor activities they can learn a lot and have bundles of fun at the same time.


BP knew that not only was camping a great activity to create “self-Reliance” it was also a fantastic way of connecting young people with nature. Tracking and wildlife observation were a large part of his first camp and BP used symbols connected with nature to enhance this message. He used the names of wildlife for his patrols and even the symbolism of the term “Scout” was all about people close nature and the out of doors. He chose the Fleur-de –Lys (used to point to true north on map) as the symbol for scouting, a motif that is strongly connected with the out of doors and one that suggests purpose and a sense of direction.


As if that wasn’t good enough he added a code of conduct; the Scout Laws.  These can be summed up as; “trusty, loyal, a friend and brother……courageous, careful, respect for others”. These gave that small group of pals a framework upon which to work so that respect for others and for the environment became central to the process.  To this he added the concepts of a Scout’s Honour, of Doing Your Best, of Doing a Good Turn Daily and of “Leaving a place better than you found it” and he chose “Be Prepared” as the scout motto. All this gave the scout movement an amazing sense of identity and purpose and our logo is now one of the most recognised the world over. Money just couldn’t buy you that sort of branding.


Finally he introduced a scheme of merit badges to ensure that the scouts acquired the skills needed to undertake the activities in a safe manner. The badge scheme added an element of progression where goals could be set and achievements recognised and it provided the content for patrol meetings. The badges could be displayed on a scout’s uniform which was designed for what at the time was practical outdoor clothing, a hard wearing khaki shirt and shorts, broad brimmed hat and neckerchief.


Put all these together and you have the wonderfully simple yet powerful educational tool known as the scout method;                     

  • Use of the out of doors
  • Working in small groups
  • Learning by doing,
  • A progressive training scheme
  • A shared set of values

Is it little wonder that scouting has become the world’s most successful youth movement?


That’s why we still promote scout camping as our core activity. One where the young people do the organising and while the scout programme was originally targeted at teenagers there is  no reason why the same educational process can’t be applied to any age group in an age appropriate fashion. Leaders are there to help and assist the young people but not to do it for them. So we discourage tents being pre pitched, centralised cooking and leaders doing all the fun the camp chores. Scout camping is more than a set of activity bases run by adults where the young people are merely participants in someone else’s idea.


When run as originally intended scout camping is where nature and nurture meet.


Cover Pic, Spectacular night view of FOTA Scout Campsite

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1 Comment

  • An amazing article that cuts to the heart of scouting. Should be part of Scouter training. Thanks for keeping us focused Zeph.

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