Useful Camp Gadgets as Teaching Aid

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As we arrive at our Ransburg campsite, the Firecrafter phrase “useful camp gadget” appears. For new scoutmasters, this seems to be a unique phrase. It is as mystical is the idea of “scoutmaster.”

In fact both of these phrases go back over a century. A scoutmaster is a reference to the 19th century word “master,” which was short for “school master.” The schoolmaster had a master’s degree, which gave him the authority to teach bachelor’s degree candidates. Baden Powell picked up on this notion of a master-as-a-teacher when he named “scoutmasters.” Simply this was a teacher of scouts. Scoutmasters were assumed to have deep knowledge of a particular area, scout craft. The biggest part of this was woodcraft.

He wrote in Aids to Scoutmastership (1920),

Success in training the boy largely depends upon the Scoutmaster’s own personal example. It is easy to become the hero as well as the elder brother of the boy.

* * *

Therefore, to get them to carry out the Scout Law and all that underlies it, the Scoutmaster himself should scrupulously carry out its professions in every detail of his life. With scarcely a word of instruction his boys will follow him.

The Scoutmaster’s job is like golf, or scything, or fly-fishing. If you “press” you don’t get there, at least not with anything like the extent you do by a light-hearted effortless swing. But you have got to swing. It’s no use standing still.

He continues on about the nature of what material should be taught:

The first step towards getting a Scout to take up handiwork is most easily effected in camp, in the practice of hut-building, tree-felling, bridge-building, improvising camp utensils, such as pot-hooks and plate-racks, etc., tent-making, mat-weaving with the camp-loom, and so on. The boys find these tasks to be practical and useful to their comfort in the camping season.

All too often I see troops making useful camp gadgets on Thursday and Friday night to try and meet

their fire crafter requirements. The boys feel like they’re just marking a requirement off. It is sometimes hard to think of a useful camp gadget at Ransburg. The food is provided, so no kitchens or eating areas. The latrine is permanent, so no sanitary issues. Picnic shelters are installed, so less need for covering.  Troops provide pop-up tents, too. Tents and beds are provided.

A simple change makes all of this much easier. If on Sunday night the boys are looking around the campsite on how to prepare for the week, a little bit of effort to making a livable campsite? A rack for fire buckets or boots. A drying rack for clothes. A camp table. Camp or patrol gateways. Seating of all kinds. Drinking water spigots to minimize mud puddles. Ax yard tool racks.

We, as scoutmasters, can do many things to promote this. First and foremost, we should be looking about setting up those types of camp gadgets around our own tent. No word spoken. Just an example.

The biggest problem that we face is that we are often insecure in our own knowledge of pioneering skills. We may not have sufficient twine available to do the lashings.

By doing a little studying, we are better prepared to be better teachers. We teach best by example. If you have your useful camp gadgets built by Monday night, how many of your scouts will have them built by Tuesday night?

Give an award in the campsite at Wednesday Night family dinner for the most practical. Give an award for the most Rube Goldberg like.

Send us pictures and we will recognize the most elaborate, most artistic, most Rube Goldberg inspired, and the most different techniques in one device.

No awards for weather rocks on a simple tripod.

Here are some PDFs on different pioneering techniques that I have found. I have recompiled them to make downloading easier. I love the idea of cat drill. It requires a few different tools, but it is wonderful for using small branches. It would likely intrigue many of your senior scouts because it is different than what they have already seen. Froissartage is a French technique that involves less rope and more cutting. You can always go to Pioneering Blogs like The Dump,,, or Ropes and Poles.

Build the adult leaders some pioneering furniture or gadgets.  Then sit back and see if the scouts get curious.  If they do, encourage it.  If more than one patrol becomes curious, offer the awards mentioned above.

Let’s have some fun with wood. Firecrafter ranks should come more easily to the younger scouts as a result.