Homesickness and the First Year Scout

An ASM and I have talked a lot about homesickness and our new scouts lately.  Over the last few months we’ve had a number of conversations about why we do things, what to expect at Summer Camp, etc.  Thought I’d share…

Webelos Crossovers- In our District there is no rhyme or reason to crossovers.  Some packs cross their scouts over individually as they achieve requirements and age, some endeavor to cross them over as a Patrol as early as January and some wait until almost the end of the school year. Without getting into the Cub Scout program and the way I think things should be done, etc…  My contention is that Scouts should try to cross over in February.  This allows them at least three campouts to get used to us as a troop and get to know everyone.  (It is a little overwhelming going straight to Summer Camp from Cub Scouts with a bunch of older kids you don’t know!)  A February cross over also allows them to participate in our Spring fundraiser to help defer camp costs and allows them a few months to spread out payments for the camp rather than having to pay all at once.  Finally, it allows the Scout the chance to sign up for classes that they may want to take at Summer Camp.  Our local council camp fills up quickly, so late cross overs may miss out on some of the classes that they want to take.  (By the way, I always suggest to new parents and Scout to take the TrailBlazers (New Scout Program), First Aid, Swimming and something fun.)

First Summer Camp – Some new scouts are happy to be away from their parents, but most get home sick their first extended stay away.  I think having information is powerful, so I set expectations with the Adult Leaders and Older Scouts so that they can be prepared for what is coming and how to combat it and I set them with the younger scout and their parent so that they know that what they are going through is normal.  For the Adult and Youth Leaders, I talk to them about providing distractions.  Having fun is the greatest remedy to Homesickness during the day but also being included in activities with the older scouts, personal encouragements, etc. go a long way.  My favorite distractions are scout skills.  I bring a number of short lengths of rope with me and often take young scouts aside and work with them on simple knots if they don’t know them or more advanced knots if they do.  After they get the knot figured out, I challenge them to be faster than me at tying them.

For the new scout themselves, I tell them prior to the camp what to expect when it comes to homesickness and then as they are going through it, I remind them of what we had talked about.  My goal is to make sure they know that most scouts go through the same thing, so there is nothing weird or unusual about feeling this way.  As the week goes on, they always seem amazed that I was able to predict what they were going through.  By the way, the cycle that we usually see is:  Day 1 / Drop off day is usually too busy to be all that homesick.  Day 2 (Mon) is the worst as they realize how long they’ll be at camp.  Day 3 (Tues) is a little better but lights out is pretty bad.  Day 3 (Wed) is usually no problem as they realize that they’ll be seeing their family the next day at Family Night.  Day 4 (Thur) is great, up until Mom shows up.  Then we usually get some tears.  Sometimes Scouts forget how much fun they’ve been having and get pretty clingy when it’s time for mom to leave.  Day 5 (Fri) is a piece of cake as it is the last day.  Day 6 (Sat) doesn’t count, because mom is there in the morning to take him home.

The Cycle – One of the other things that we go over is the cycle of Summer Camps and how the scouts grow.  The first Summer Camp is the toughest.  Usually there’s at least a little home sickness and awkwardness as they figure out the schedules and classes.  The second Summer Camp is pretty good.  The Scouts have been there and done that.  They know what the best things to do are, where the best junk food is, what to expect.  They have their eyes and ears open a little more and are talking to the older scouts about what the best classes and activities are for the next year.  The third year and beyond are the best.  At this point they walk around like they own the camp.  They are less interested in merit badge classes and are more interested in the challenging classes like Woodsman or Cope.  They spend more time with the camp staff and start thinking about serving on staff.