Walt Disney cartoons and comics was a part of my childhood. My father had dreamed of being an animator for Disney in the 1940’s but never made it. Instead, he passed on his love of Disney but by the 1950’s, the rich, time-intensive cell animation gave way to simpler styes and the stories became sugar coated. The Disney of today is now unrecognizable from its humble, Steamboat Willie, beginnings.
Now, Disney represents the height of commercialism and youth marketing. Its message is based on a fantasy where the villains are so exaggerated as to be non-threatening and are more annoying than bad. Women are in need of rescue and life always ends up happily every after.This is the Disney we need an antidote for.To be fair, Disney is an easy target but I could have just as easily called this post “The Video Game Antidote” because it is the same basic issue: culturally our children are tuning out to engage in a fantasy land that by no means prepares them for life. And we, as parents, are the guilty ones because it is far easier on us to let our kids tune out. We do this when we let them play video games and watch TV programs like Disney’s because we allow our children to get sucked into an unrealistic reality.
I am just as guilty in letting my kids tune out now and then but I try to keep it to just now and then. I refuse to own a gaming system of any kind and I limit TV watching. They still play games on our computer or iPad but the idea of spending money just on games seems absurd. So I am always looking for experiences that engage my kids in life, not fantasy and this past week I found the best experience by far. I call it the Disney Antidote but it is really known as Scoutland Adventure Camp.
It was an 8 hour trip from Florida to the camp in Georgia. This camp is just one of many across the country available to Cub and Boy Scouts. Scouting alone is a great antidote but a camp like this takes it to another level with an immersion in life-skills, respect for nature, and all around boy fun. Girl Scouts offers a similar experience for girls but my daughter actually prefers just tagging along at the Cub Scout family camp outs instead. Scoutland, however, was just for boys entering 4th and 5th grade and was intended to be an intensive experience.
We had fun on the ride up. Since the trip was so long I let my son play on the iPad for a little while but we spent most of the time looking out the window and making fun of the billboards. It was a great time together.
When we finally arrive we went to our “home” which was a wooden platform and poles with a canvas covering. Inside were two metal cots and thin mattress pads. There was a bath house with toilets and showers divide by boys, adult men and adult women. Insects and poison ivy was everywhere. It was very muddy from recent rain. After check in we dropped off our stuff and changed for our swim test, a requirement upon arrival.
So we walked to the lake and took our swim test. We had to jump in the lake and swim the length of the dock (25 meters) 4 times. It was intense for Marcos and he almost gave up. There were lots of people testing so it was a bit crowded at times. The first 3 laps we could swim anyway except the dog paddle or the breaststroke but the last lap we had to do on our back in a specific stroke they called “Soldier, chicken, tree and repeat”. If you didn’t do it right or got off course they would blow the whistle. The test ended with floating on your back for 1 minute. Marcos struggled but he made it and we were relieved.
Scoutland was beautiful and rustic. Since we passed our swimming test we were able to swim in the lake every day. There was natural foliage and beauty everywhere we looked.
The program at Scoutland was led by teenagers, both boys and girls between the ages of 14-19 who had a keen interest in scouting. They were very enthusiastic. Each morning began with a the staff marching into the field military style and raising the flag while the scouts held their attention. The second day our pack got to march with the staff and participate in the flag ceremony. After the ceremony it was a mad dash to the mess hall where before the meals were served, the staff would sing a song, one which we had to participate in both vocally and physically. Then we all joined a prayer.
At the campsite, most of the time the boys ran around playing a game called “cops and robbers” but unfortunately, several of the boys brought handheld video games to the campsite and therefore disconnected completely. I wouldn’t allow this for Marcos so he found other ways to entertain himself. The second night the boys had to make a hobo dinner and then the rain poured down.
But the highlight of the trip was the classes which were focused around scout skills and badges. First day was geology (rocks), forestry (identifying plants and trees) and outdoorsman (how to build a fire, knots, safe hiking); second day was naturalist (identifying animals, ecosystem), ropes and bridges (more knots, crossing a rope bridge), scientist (newton’s law, energy), and aquanaut (swimming and water safety). In between the classes the boys had free time for more swimming, archery and fishing.
The camp ended with a pirate adventure play acted out by the staff. The players were in different locations in the camp so the scouts were led in small groups from scene to scene. It was great fun with vocal participation by the scouts during the mock fighting scenes.
All and all it was an amazing time. Yes it was wet, dirty and uncomfortable. There were creepy crawlies everywhere and the food was not gourmet. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it was a change to spend one-on-one time with my son and to witness him actively engaged in the world around him while learning things that shape his character and may ultimately help him survive…I highly recommend as a parent that you actively seek experiences like this as it is an investment in their future.