I often listen to Clark Green’s Scoutmaster Podcast and read his blog at www.scoutmastercg.com. In several episodes and posts, he returns to the question of “how to deal with homesickness.”
In episode 171, for example, he talks at length about the importance of encouraging the young scout’s parents to be actively involved in discussions with the scout. The discussions should focus on what the scout can expect at summer camp. Clark also talks about the problems phone calls home from camp create. He underlines this point with research, suggesting that short times away from home are hurt by phone calls home. To avoid these problems, Clark recommends an agreed plan for written correspondence home often but no calls for short to several-week long trips. Clark also describes the importance of mementoes from home to create some familiarity in strange surroundings, such as stuffed animals or favorite items.
Clark’s recommendations are wonderful for parents who have not considered these issues before and need to quickly start to remedy an existing problem. From his perspective as a scoutmaster, this makes sense. He is introduced to a young scout in February or March, then by July he is taking this boy to camp.
From a parent’s perspective, the journey to minimizing homesickness begins in Cub Scouts. Regular use of the Cub Scout Outdoor Program is one of the best tools for developing a tolerance or even immunity to homesickness. Cub Scouts is almost an inoculation.
A first grade Tiger Cub facing his first Cub Scout campout is being asked to go camping with his family. The first night is scary because of strange noises and funny toilet procedures. He cannot just go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Even so, mom or dad is right there in the tent to help him through this strange situation. When he is cold in the middle of the night, mom or dad can get him warm with a blanket or a hug. If the Tiger is not ready, he doesn’t have to go camping.
A second grade Wolf has prior experience. He can take pride in his growth compared to what he sees with the Tiger Cubs. He can even tell the Tiger about what he felt like last year and how it worked out.
A third grade Bear is going to get a requirement checked off for camping. He gets a few more tasks around the campsite. He starts to feel like a boy scout. The Bear starts to spend more and more of his time on campouts with friends, but turning around to see a parent is still critical to comfort and tolerance of any differences from home.
A fourth grade Webelos is going to have more responsibility than the Bear. He is going to be a great resource for comfort to the younger boys. He starts to shift from his parents being the center of his camping experience to his friends. If there is a problem, he can touch base with his parents.
A fifth grade Arrow-of-Light Candidate Webelos is starting to work with his den as if he is in a boy scout patrol. He spends more of his time with his friends with little obvious interest in his parents. Then he will sit down with his parents at dinner or at the campfire and unleash a storm of stories from the day. Rain or cool breezes are not major obstacles. They have been confronted several times in the past several years.
Now this boy moves to boy scouts, the biggest change is not the tent, the campfire, the food, the friends, the time away from home, the toilet situation, or the ambient temperature. Those are all old hat. The concern is that mom or dad may not be there or that the scout has to find his way through a big campground by himself. He still has concerns that he has not yet experienced. But there are far fewer.
Camping with Cub Scouts is one of the best forms of prevention of homesickness for future 11-year old boy scouts.
How often does your Cub Scout Pack camp? What is your goal for camping in Cub Scouts? Would you like to camp more with your Cubs? What obstacles do you face? Do you have a friend at a Boy Scout Troop who can use as a sounding board?
Take your Cubs on outings in tents! They will smile before, during, and after.