The Scout Method and Camp Opemikon
How the Scout Method is put to use at a residential summer camp
Note: Several years have passed since this report was written. I understand that substantial changes have been made to Camp Opemikon's program in that time, some of them in response to this report. This report is retained for its value in describing the Scout Method. It should not be viewed as providing any information about the programs currently offered by Camp Opemikon.
This report analyses the program of Camp Opemikon in terms of the Scout Method. The seven elements of the Scout Method and how they are put to use at Camp Opemikon are examined. Background information is provided for those who are not familiar with Scouting. This report is intended to spur the review of the camp programs so that they will be of better quality in the future. This report will analyze the overall program of the camp. The specific details of each program section are beyond its scope.
Camp Opemikon's programs make inconsistent use of the seven elements of Scouting's educational system, the Scout Method. The Law and Promise are used almost not at all, though they should be the basis of the discipline at a Scout camp. Learning by Doing is well used throughout the program. Team System is absent from most programs, but is used in some sections at the initiative of the Adult Scouter. Symbolic Framework is make little use of except for specific frameworks during theme days. While Nature surrounds the camp, the use of recorded music, for example, undermines the experience for the campers. Opemikon's programs are structured in a sequence that allows Personal Progression to work fairly well, but are almost too sequential in that they leave little room for people being at a variety of levels of development. Adult Support is successful for the most part, but the staff lack enough knowledge of the Scout Method to be as effective as they could be.
It is the major recommendation of this report that Camp Opemikon do a complete program and staffing review in terms of the seven elements of the Scout Method.
Camp Opemikon is a residential summer camp operated by Scouts Canada, Voyageur Region. The Camp offers programs for children ranging in age from 8 to 14. Most programs are one week in duration, though some of the programs for the older campers are two weeks. The campers come mostly from the various Scout groups in Voyageur Region (Eastern Ontario), though some are former members of Scouting. The camp strives to recruit its staff from former campers. The Opemikon Leadership Camp (OLC), which this author coordinated during the summer of 1998, is the link between being a camper and being a staff member. Candidates for the Leader in Training (LIT) program are usually selected from the previous year's OLC program. The staff consists of councillors, generally teen-aged members of Scouting, and adult Scouters, who are involved in Scouting during the rest of the year with a Scout section. Since the camp is operated by Scouts Canada, it is required to offer a Scouting program.
What is Scouting?
Though it is somewhat difficult to summarize what Scouting is in a few paragraphs, a basic understanding is essential for understanding Opemikon. Scouting, very basically, is a system of education. Its purpose is to contribute to the development of young people in developing their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual capacities so that they are better citizens and members of humanity (WOSM 1992). "The development ideals pursued in Scouting is that of a happy, well-balanced person who is both autonomous and supportive—autonomous in the sense of being resourceful, being able to make decisions, and to assert oneself as a unique and responsible person; and supportive, i.e. being capable of sharing, genuinely caring about others, doing something for them, promoting a cause" (WOSM 1996:13). This is a very wide open purpose, but Scouters are guided by Scouting's Principles, a set of moral prerogatives, in implementing this purpose.
Scouting's principles represent the moral values of the movement. They describe what the ideal Scout should be. The most familiar formulation of Scouting's principles is in the promise and law (DYB or Do Your Best, the Wolf Cub Motto, is probably the best known of these). The principles themselves recognize the three dimensions that make up every person: the spiritual (beyond the material world, whether expressed in terms of God or not), the social (helping others and living as part of society), and the personal (taking responsibility for one's own development). Scouting seeks to teach young people to strive towards these principles, to the best of their ability. To do this, Scouting utilizes a set of tools known as the Scout Method.
The Scout Method is a set of seven elements that are used together to achieve Scouting's purpose. The seven elements of the Scout Method are: Law & Promise (commitment to a set of values), Learning by Doing (new experiences first hand), Team System (small groups of people working together to achieve objectives), Symbolic Framework (themes to make the program appealing, such as the jungle theme for Wolf Cubs), Nature (learning to appreciate the environment), Personal Progression (badges that mark one's learning), and Adult Support (developing with the guidance of adults). When used together, these elements contribute to the total development of a person in accordance with Scouting's principles (WOSM 1998).
Camp Opemikon has recently undergone some major changes in its administration as well as a major turnover in its staffing. Such major changes will invariably have some effect on the quality of the program offered. This report is intended to be a report card on how the camp's programs fit with the Scout Method and a on how well the staff are suited to run these programs.
This report is based on participant observations by this author during the summer of 1998 while employed as an Adult Leader at the camp. The full six weeks of the summer program where examined along with the one week of pre-camp staff training. The body of this report will briefly describe each of the seven elements of the Scout Method then look at how each element is applied at Camp Opemikon.
Law & Promise
The Scout Law is intended to be an age and culture appropriate formulation of Scouting's Principles and is the code of living that Scouts are to follow, to the best of their ability. A Law and Promise is developed by the Scout organization of each country of the world. This allows a single set of principles to be the basis of Scouting world wide, while maintaining a Law and Promise which appeals to the people of a given country. For example, a country in which most of the population is Muslim would likely have a promise which mentions a duty to Allah. However, an emphasis on tradition means that Scout Laws and Promises often do not keep up with cultural change. In Canada for example, the promise mentions a duty to God despite the fact that many families have no connection with any religious body.
The Scout Law should be simple so that it is known and understood by everyone and it should be phrased in the positive. "The [Scout] is not governed by DON'T, but is led on by DO. The Scout Law is devised as a guide to [the Scout's] actions, rather than as repressive of [their] faults" (Baden-Powell 1945:22). The Scout Promise is the pledge that each Scout makes upon investiture in which they shows that they understand the Scout Law and that they intend to do their best to keep it (WOSM 1998:15).
Since most of the campers at Opemikon are already invested members of a program section, there are no investiture ceremonies at camp in which to use the promise. However, the Law should be part of everyday life at a Scout Camp. It should be used as the primary tool for establishing rules and routines, and for handling behaviour problems. This is not just with the campers. The same tool should be used for establishing the rules that the staff will follow. When rules are established and clearly based on the Law, they are more readily accepted by those who are to follow the rules since campers and staff alike prefer to be led on by "dos rather than governed by don'ts".
At Opemikon, there is little use of the Scout Law. The camp rules were almost always phrased in the negative and were never linked back to the Law. In everyday interactions, this author never saw a staff member suggest to a camper that they should evaluate their actions in terms of the Law. The camper was most likely just told to stop doing whatever they was doing. This puts the responsibility for behaviour on the staff member rather than on the camper where it must be for the camper to learn how to get along with others. Emphasizing the Scout Law causes the camper or staff member to think about their own actions and make their own informed decisions, leading to a higher level of autonomy.
The absence of the Scout Law from everyday camp life can be traced to the absence of the Law from the pre-camp staff training. While much time was spent on laying out an elaborate array of rules for the staff to follow, none was spent on talking about the Law, what it means, and how to use it with the campers. Given that the Scout Law sits at the centre of the Scout Method, this is a major area of potential improvement.
Learning by Doing
This is perhaps the easiest to understand of the seven elements of the Scout Method. Learning by doing means trying out new experiences for oneself and developing skills in real situations. For example, one does not talk much about how to paddle a canoe, but one gives opportunities for the Scouts to try, with guidance from the Scouter. As well, trying out canoeing is not done so that one can demonstrate one's paddling skills to a panel of judges, but so that one an go on a canoe trip. Every Scouting activity should be a close to reality as possible, but sized so that it fits the child (WOSM 1998:21).
Camp Opemikon's programs make excellent use of learning by doing. Programs such as Kayaking offer time for developing paddling and water-camping skills at the beginning of the week and end with a trip where all these skills are put to use. In the Opemikon Leadership Camp program, the Scouts are given every opportunity for taking responsibility for their own leadership and for solving their own problems.
The camp's programs also provide a rich array of varied activities and new experiences for the campers. Rock climbing, boating, hiking, a swamp walk, archery, fire lighting, and other activities are all things that cannot be experienced in the city. As one bends to look closer at a marsh plant, one is learning first hand about the world.
The team system in the Scout Method is designed to bring Scouts of similar age together to live, solve problems, and play together. Being in such a micro-society forces the Scout to notice how their actions effect others and gives opportunities for the development of conflict resolution skills and other groups skills. In order for a team system to be effective, the teams (or Patrols as their are usually called) must have real responsibilities in the operation of their program (WOSM 1998:25).
Results are mixed at Camp Opemikon. Whether or not a section is organized as teams depends greatly on the adult Scouter assigned to it. In most sections, little use was made of teams, except during games which call for small groups, such as scavenger hunts. In this author's section, significant use of teams was made. Consistent teams formed the basis for most of the activities so that the campers would have to work out their differences for themselves. Responsibility for solving conflicts was put on the members of the team and the team leader, who they select from among themselves. Planning, such as planning the menus for out-trips, was all done in the teams.
Opemikon's programs are structured in one criteria in a way that reduces the possible effectiveness of the team system. Opemikon's programs are divided into same-age groupings. The team system, meanwhile, is designed to work with groups of young people of varied ages, within an age corridor of three or four years (WOSM 1998:30). While Opemikon's programs leave room for the use of the team system, its application is inconsistent.
The symbolic framework in the Scout Method is intended to make Scouting activities more appealing to the young people and more effective as they build upon the child's imagination. A symbolic framework also provides a sense of identity for the individual, and a sense of solidarity for the group (WOSM 1998:33). The most obvious example of symbolic framework within Scouting is the jungle theme for Wolf Cubs and the Forest Theme of Beavers.
From a symbolic interactionist perspective, symbolic framework is a formalization of a process that happens naturally within a society. In a society, things are given meaning by the people and this meaning greatly effects how people think about and treat a given thing. Scouting's educational purpose would fail if the meanings that the kids attached to its messages were negative. In order to avoid the attachment of negative meanings, Scouting provides a set of meanings for its messages. The meanings are designed to be both attractive to the kids and consistent with Scouting's values.
The Wolf Cub program, for example, is based around the theme of the jungle and the wolf pack. Children of Cub age are attracted by the story of the wolves. They are told that by becoming a Cubs, they can be part of this exciting story. This is the hook that draws them to Wolf Cubs. Once they are there, the story is expanded to include the teaching of Scouting's values. Respecting and following the leadership of Akela (the leader of a pack) is necessary in the jungle stories for the pack to operate. If a child wishes to really be part of this story, they must also respect the Akela of their real life pack. Care must be taken when working with symbolic frameworks. All Scouters in a cub pack are given names of characters from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. In some packs, Scouters were given the name Shere-Kan. Shere-Kan in The Jungle Book is an antagonist who tries to lure Mogli away from what is right. Such a setup undermines the effectiveness of the educational environment.
Camp Opemikon's programs do not make much use of the general symbolic framework of the Cub section, but excellent use is made of specific frameworks for various activities. For example, each week, there is a theme day. The theme might be Medieval Knights. The campers would be divided into clans which would work together to slay the evil dragon. Costumes, skits, and decorations are used to make the theme exciting for the campers. For the older campers, symbolic frameworks are used to enhance wide area games, such as capture the flag.
Nature in the Scout Method refers to the ideal setting in which to apply the Scout Method. Programs which operate in wooded areas, lakes, rivers, and other outdoor settings allow the Scout to experience their interdependence on other members of their team and on nature, and to experience the sense of awe and wonder about the cosmos. Living away from artificial environments allows people to get a perspective on these environments and to reflect upon what is really essential in life (WOSM 1998:41).
While for the most part one cannot avoid this element of the Scout Method when one's camp is located in the middle of the woods, there are some things that can be done to bring an artificial environment to the natural one, thus partially defeating the effectiveness of the Scout education. The most significant example of this is the use of recorded music, which can often be heard playing from councillors' tents at Opemikon. In the city, one is constantly surrounded by noise of various sorts. Nature offers the opportunity to "hear" silence. In the silence, one's brain is open to new, deeper thoughts about the universe. Recorded music, particularly at night, removes this experience of silence.
Opemikon's physical environment is also artificial to a certain degree. Large areas of the property are kept mowed like lawns, instead of allowing them to be natural forest ground cover. There is no suggestion that there should be no field areas set aside for sports, but that landscaping should be limited to need.
While these limitations on the ability to experience nature could be said to be small, they send powerful messages about value to the campers. When many people talk about what they travel to the wilderness on vacations, they will reply that it is to get away from noise, to see the stars, and to experience other parts of nature. In their spare time, the camp staff, while surrounded by nature, usually choose to listen to recorded music, watch television in the staff lounge, and be by the light of a lantern. This sends the symbolic values message to the campers that this artificial environment is preferable to sitting by the light of a campfire singing one's own music. This lesson in the inherent value of the artificial environment will be salient to the campers as it comes from people that they respect and who they believe have already experienced nature and have apparently rejected it.
In the Scout Method, personal progression recognizes that learning is a process that takes time. There is improvement over time in one's capabilities. Progression is most noticeable in Scouting's progressive scheme, the set of badges that can be earned, which recognize development in various areas. A badge scheme gives the Scouts goals to strive for, makes learning appealing, and provides a sense of accomplishment when the badges are earned. (WOSM 1998:47).
Opemikon's programs are structured to take campers from a one or two year age range. Each program has a clearly defined set of goals which fit together in a sequence. While this sequence may appear to be a strong implementation of the concept of progression, the age ranges of the program sections are so narrow that they leave little room for people to develop at different rate.
Badges are not normally given out, especially at the Scout level, but any requirements earned are recorded and notice is sent to the Scouter of the camper's Scout section in the city. In this way, Opemikon's programs support those of the city Scout sections from which it draws its campers.
Opemikon also has a number of its own awards which recognize challenges met during the camping period. There is a Bull's Eye award in archery, a Mile Swim award, a Swamp Walk award, and few others. These have the benefit of recognition for the achievements at the end of the week, instead of, in the case of the regular progressive scheme, when the camper returns to their home Scout section.
The Adult Scouter is in a unique kind of educational relationship with the Scout. It is an educational partnership between the Scouter and the Scout. The Scouter balances friendship (to encourage and support) with responsibility (to keep everyone moving towards Scouting's educational objectives). In order to do this, the Scouter must be familiar with Scouting's educational system and must have a real interest in their Scouts (WOSM 1998:57).
As mentioned earlier, the training that Camp Opemikon provides for its staff leaves out mention of the Scout Law and Promise. It also leaves out, to a large degree, mention of the Scout Method. This hampers the ability of the staff to carry out the method. However, the presence of adult Scouters along with the teen-aged councillors goes a little ways to correcting this. The adult Scouters have been trained and are experienced from their work with Scout sections during the rest of the year. This makes up partially for this lack of knowledge.
Many of the teen aged staff also come to camp with the expectation that it will be a continuation of the kind of fun that they had as campers, but with teen aged things like pranks added. Some staff have no real interest in the campers. These staff members do not make an effort to learn how to be better Scouters and spend as much of their free time as possible away from the kids. While this is permitted, the presence of "off-duty" Scouters with the kids send them the message that they are valuable and fun to be with, a pleasure rather than a chore.
Camp Opemikon's programs fall short of the Scout Method in many ways. The program resembles more those of other children's camps than a Scout camp. The problem is routed in the fact that the staff have little knowledge of the method and that many of them are working their for reasons besides have a desire to help kids develop as Scouts.
In order to improve the quality of its programs as Scout Programs, the following recommendations are made. It is recommended that the senior staff and administration of Opemikon learn about the Scout Method and that they discuss what they understand the method to mean and how to apply it at the camp. It is recommended that the staff training program be reworked to include a major emphasis on the Scout Law and Promise and on the Scout Method. It is recommended that free time for staff be reduced and that activities such as pranking be eliminated, as these may attract staff who will not do a good job. Finally, it is recommended that the entire camp program be reviewed in terms of the Scout Method.
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- 1996. Scouting in Practice: Ideas for Scout Leaders. (PDF) Geneva, Switzerland: World Scout Bureau.