Advancement for First Year Campers

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Summer Camps are now required to offer real first year camper programs. See Summer Camp for details.

Below is a letter I wrote based on a request from a friend. I hope you find it helpful.

Dear Catherine,

Don De Young told me you wanted to find out what merit badges a first year camper should take. I'll be glad to attempt to answer your question. Please keep in mind that all of the below is my personal opinion and others may disagree.

Scouts enjoying their first year at summer camp should focus on advancement not merit badges. Most summer camps have first year programs that focus on advancement. Nearly all first year Scouts under twelve years old should participate in this type of program. Scouts who have already earned Second Class and above shouldn't participate because they would probably be bored - they've already had the experiences they would be exposed to in the program. Scouts twelve and older probably won't like having to hang out all week with younger Scouts.

The first year camper programs usually leave some time for a couple of merit badges. It is VERY important that first year campers successfully complete whatever they work on. Good Scouts are built on positive experiences. They will have plenty of time to stretch beyond their levels later on after they are vested in Scouting.

The merit badge that all Scouts should earn first is First Aid. For a long time, you couldn't earn the First Class rank until you earned this one merit badge. It is relatively easy, it is Eagle required, and it is a subject all Scouts should be familiar with.

If the Scout can pass the swim test, encourage him to earn Swimming merit badge. The water is an important part of the Scouting experience and Swimming merit badge is the foundation of this experience. If you have Scouts that can't swim, encourage them to take lessons before summer camp so they'll be ready to take part in this program.

Beyond these, I suggest easy merit badges such as basketry, leatherwork, and fishing. For a list of the recommendations made by our summer camp, see the list below.

Most important of all, whatever your Scouts decide to take, support them and encourage them to complete the badges while at camp. If they can't be completed at camp, jump right on them immediately after getting back from camp. Make sure they remember their first summer camp as a positive experience where they accomplished their goals, even if they didn't know they had them.


The Optimist

List of Merit Badges Recommended for Younger Campers
by Bert Adams Scout Reservation circa 1995

The letter above originally linked to a web page which no longer exists. I'll post the list as soon as I can dig it up.

It should be noted that this letter was written in the mid-90s. Since that time, it has become commonplace for summer camps to have very specific programs for first year campers that take up their entire day and leave little or no time for other choices. As such, the above letter may not apply to your troop's camping experience.

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