I was a Girl Guide and a Brownie before that, then a Young Leader. Guiding and Scouting were a big part of my growing up, I don’t think I realised it at the time or really even thought about it until I had kids. I certainly didn’t realise how it affected me until quite recently; equipping me for life in all sorts of ways. Our boys’ scout group has lost a few volunteers as well as kids since COVID, so when they needed some extra hands both himself and I were happy to step up and go on a rota of helpers.
Large boy is coming to the end of Cubs and finally had his chance to go on a proper camp. They needed some extra pairs of parental hands, so I said I’d stay overnight.
It was a totally awesome time and took me back to the camps I went on as a young teenager. I think those experiences teach young people so much about self sufficiency, independence, reliance on others, responsibility to support others and care for shared possessions. They’d probably learn more without mum hanging around raising her eyebrows and clearing her throat, gently pushing them in the right direction. Poor large boy.
Anyway, if you’ve never been on camp or your kid hasn’t and you want to know more about what goes on, this is the post for you! If you want to laugh at what we got up to, same.
Tents means guy ropes. Running with guy ropes means tripping and twisted or broken ankles. So, leaders are endlessly calling “no running!” Because a bunch of 8 to 14 year olds can’t go anywhere slowly.
Well, except for those suffering from the teenage grumpy inertia affliction.
After every meal everyone is supposed to wash up for themselves, dry up and put away. So after they’ve finished eating, the kids all line up (or not, there’s always a few pushing in at the front) and scrape, scrub, and rinse their plates and cutlery. Of course they promptly forget how that all works as soon as they get home.
Some of them forget it between leaving the table and reaching the washing up bowl. So when the queue has gone, there’s always a small collection of dirty plates, mugs and cutlery that no one owns up to. The leaders try to get the kids to finish them off, but they also need to wash the cooking pots so one or two extra mugs won’t be a problem. The innocent “I’ve done mine” all around makes it impossible to pick someone to finish off.
Constant questions about food
Breakfast at 8am, finished by 8.30am. You can bet the first question about a snack will come by 9am, followed by more and then queries about lunchtime. Kids love structure, they want to know what’s happening next, mostly when they’re next getting fed.
Lunch at 12.30pm and then the snack and dinner questions start.
You know how it is on a day out with kids, well just multiply that by 10 and voila. Of course, they’re more than usually hungry too what with all the fresh air and running around (wait, no running!)
The campfire is the absolute highlight of camp. Whether you’re just there with a small group, at a bigger district gathering or at a massive event like JOTA or a jamboree, the campfires are the best bit.
Everyone gathers around in the evening and sings songs or tells stories or jokes. There are always familiar songs that you recognise and don’t know you know the words to until you start singing along. There are always new ones that you learn to love right away. There are always silly ones that make you laugh so hard you can’t sing.
Afterwards, you’re hoarse and you stink of smoke, but you go to bed tired and happy.
Camp isn’t camp without ging gang goollie or campfire’s burning or repeating songs that get louder and louder and faster and faster.
One of the essentials of camp is sharing tents, spaces, equipment, stories. Often a pack of Cubs or Scouts brings together children from different schools and different year groups. Our recent camp had kids between year 3 and year 9 all working together.
Stick three kids in a tent together, who don’t really know each other, for three days and two nights and they’re going to come out laughing about each others’ farts and snoring and incessant chatter about Fortnite (and that’s just large boy!) A group that met once a week turns into a group of mates, just like that.
I’m not sure this is really required feature of camp. However, it was definitely a low light of ours. We’d got the kids to bed and the adults were just running in when a lone little voice squeaked “Help me! I’ve been sick!”
One of the younger Cubs apparently has a history of vomiting while camping. We got him sorted and his mum came to fetch him as he was just sonsaf and shaken up.
I guess my point here is that there will always be something unexpected; and accident or sickness or bug bites. I remember falling over at guide camp when I was 12, cutting my knee open and the leader (who was a nurse) steri-stripping it to avoid a trip for stitches, I still have the scar.
Again, not inevitable but unless it’s the height of a dry summer in the UK, very likely. Even if it doesn’t rain, a heavy dew and early wake ups will almost guarantee that you’re walking about in wet grass. And how often at waterproof walking shoes really waterproof when dunked in a field of wet grass?
We were lucky to avoid any real rain, but overnight there was a lot of drizzle and the grass was wet all day the next day. My toes were wet from fairly early on, and cold and therefore numb. Sadly, my ancient walking shoes, as well as being not-waterproof, took this personally and fell apart by the time we were packing the tents up.
Mess and lost property
Oh the mess!
Despite being responsible-ish for their belongings at school all day long, they all seemed to empty their entire bags into their tents and then stir it all up with everyone else’s stuff. Each cry for “I can’t find my…” revealed a pile of mixed up stuff with the lost item either at the bottom or right in front of the child’s eyes. Torches, sleeping bag bags, one welly, half a pack of Uno cards, a hat, whatever. Nothing was actually lost. They’re just all as capable of finding their belongings as a three year old looking for their big toe.
After all that, they still managed to bring someone else’s this, that, or the other home. We’ve acquired a roll mat strap and someone else has large boy’s roll mat bag.
Since when do you point a group of 6-14 year olds (including Beavers for this one) at a massive expanse of woodland and brush full of rocks and brambles and tell them they have free reign to explore and hide?
Since when do you teach kids to throw tomahawks and shoot air rifles? In my world, not so much.
How often do you expect a group of 10 young people to work together as a team so effectively that they transport a constant flow of water 10 metres using short lengths of guttering?
How many 10 year olds can light a fire with a flint and steal?
After our camp, all those things seem totally normal. The children were amazing, showing their hidden potential to learn and explore new skills, to stand up for themselves, and to challenge themselves. Camp gives them those special opportunities to go way outside, past their normal activities and try something new.
How about you?
Do these sound like familiar camp experiences? Or has it meant something different to you?