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Tips for Assessment Camps
In Australian Guiding, there are qualifications for both adults and older Guides to work towards to enable them to take others camping. These camps can be indoors or outdoors, at established, fully equipped campsites, or at bush sites where you take everything in with you.
This page has some tips for people who are working towards a camping qualification. I hope they are useful. They are by no means exhaustive.
PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THESE ARE MY NOTES, WRITTEN FOR MY OWN GUIDES - THEY ARE MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON ASSESSMENT CAMPS AFTER HAVING BEEN AN OUTDOOR ASSESSOR FOR SOME TWENTY YEARS - THEY ARE NOT OFFICIAL NOTES.
These comments are relevant to the following Australian qualifications:
An assessment camp, by definition, is a camp that the candidate is responsible for planning, organising, carrying out and evaluating, in conjunction with the campers, and it is assessed by a qualified, experienced camper and Guiding Partner. It is to all intents and purposes, although we no longer use the term, a test.
When you are going for a camping qualification, you will be tested on your ability to plan, organise, execute and evaluate your camp, and to deal with any and all situations that arise during the camp.
The assessor is responsible for certifying that you are capable of being in charge of a camp. This means that you have shown her that you are responsible enough, knowledgeable enough, skilled enough and have sufficient leadership qualities to ensure a safe and happy camp according to the way Guides camp, not a family camp or a school camp.
The assessor will require you to adhere to some standards, and will expect you to fix those areas that she thinks need attention. These days, that doesn't mean you have "failed", like it used to in the old days. It means that you've not yet shown competence in all areas of camping, and you will need to show competence at some future date before you are awarded the qualification. It's not uncommon for some areas to need further work.
Guides camp in a particular way. We have traditions going back 100 years. We have a very good safety record, because we pay attention to detail, and we camp in a safe manner. Having traditions does not mean that we are out of date. Having traditions means that we train ourselves and our people to be self-sufficient when at camp, without relying on lots of modern conveniences such as folding tables, barbecues or takeaway food. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use those conveniences when at camp, but it’s probably not the best idea to base your camp on them when going on an assessment camp. The assessor will expect at least some traditional Guiding camping to occur.
You need to apply to do an assessment camp. Local (state) requirements may vary, but in general you need to apply for your camp at least three months in advance. This is to give you time to do any required training, to plan your camp, and to train your campers.
I strongly urge you to go to a Guiding camp training before you even think about applying for an assessment camp. Even if you have staffed on umpteen camps, there are things to remember that you will not realise need to be done unless you have been to a training. Being in charge of a camp is a whole new ball game.
When you apply for an assessment camp, you will be assigned a Guiding Partner, an experienced camper who holds the qualification you are attempting. Use her as a resource, a sounding board, a trainer. Ask her advice, talk things through with her, invite her to camp preparation and planning meetings, get her involved in the process. That way she can see your progress, and you can get the benefit of her knowledge.
Before you go to camp, you will need to send to your assessor copies of everything. She needs to see your menu, shopping list, kitlist, program, forms, first aid kit, planning notes, etc. Get these to her before camp if possible. If you can’t get them to her beforehand, make sure you have a folder of everything ready for her when she arrives at camp.
You can find some planning forms here on the camp planning page.
I often make up booklets for my campers, if I have time. These booklets can contain as much or as little as you want, but should probably include the program, menu, duties, duty roster, recipes, instructions on how to do things, songs, skits, camp challenges etc. The girls love getting these, and they are expecially useful if you have a long way to travel to camp (something to do on the trip), or when the girls are inexperienced and need a little bit more help.
Please email me if you would like a copy of a booklet that I have used successfully.
Guide camps should be financially self-sufficient, which means that the fees the campers pay should cover everything involved in the camp, including property fees, activity fees, food, program items and first aid kit updates. Traditionally, adult staff do not pay camp fees for unit camps (after all, they are giving up their time to be responsible for the girls), and the fees paid by the youth campers should cover the adults as well. Sometimes this is not possible, in which case the adult staff should be made aware of how much they need to pay before they come to camp.
If there is money left over at the end of camp, you should reimburse all paying campers. For example, if you have $100.00 left over, and ten paying campers, you should reimburse everyone $10.00.
If your camp fees do not cover the expenditure, you have a problem, and you will need to work out a way to cover the outstanding costs. Sometimes it is possible to use unit funds, although this is not recommended. Sometimes you might need to ask any adult staff to pay a little bit.
You need to work out potential costs before you decide on the camp fee. Here’s how:
Here’s an example:
The above scenario gives you a budget of $125.00 to purchase all the food, program and camping supplies for your camp.
An excellent way to keep track of your camp costs is to use a spreadsheet. Email me if you would like a copy of the spreadsheet I use.
Here is a suggested way of doing your camp accounts, using the figures in the example above (this is obviously for a patrol camp – a unit camp would have larger figures).
Yippee! Your camp came out just about even!
When you are doing an assessment camp, the assessor will ask to see your accounts.
Think about your campsite before you start erecting tents. You need to think about the placement of tents, fireplaces and gadgets, where you will prepare and eat food, where you will do program activities etc; ie the camp layout. It's a good idea to visit the campsite to suss it out if you've never been there before. Check out the terrain, the equipment, the facilities and the person in charge.
It doesn’t really matter what type of tent you camp in, as long as an entire patrol can sleep in the same tent. Make sure you know how to erect, look after and strike whatever type(s) of tent you intend to use. If you haven’t used the type of tent you want to use before, practise how to erect and strike it several times before camp. It should take no more than 15 minutes to erect a tent if you know what you are doing. The assessor will start thinking you don’t know what you’re doing if it takes an hour for a patrol to erect one tent!
Whatever type of tent you use, you need to ensure that all personal gear is waterproof, bug-proof and off the ground. Tents with floors are handy because gear should not get too wet, but in wet weather floored tents can get very soggy underneath personal bags, so alternative methods of protecting personal gear should be investigated. For instance, putting a tarpaulin under the tent helps to keep it dry, and also helps to keep the tent floor in good condition.
Make sure you know how to look after your tents. If you are using a bell tent, you will need to ensure that it is starred correctly, and that you loosen the guy ropes at night or in the rain, and tighten them during the day. Find out if you need to do this for other types of tent.
When you are doing an assessment camp, the assessor will expect to see well-erected and looked after tents and personal gear. Bedding must be rolled up and waterproof when not being used (even if you are using a dome tent with a floor), and off the ground if possible (put them on a gadget, stretcher or airbed).
Think carefully about where you erect your tents. They should not be under trees, in gullies or hollows, on top of ant nests, next to a fire place etc. If you have more than one tent, it’s nice to have the tents in a circle or semi-circle, with the doors facing the centre.
Just as in a home, camps have their own etiquette. Here are a few etiquette rules:
Guiding has 100 years of traditions. Here are some of the ones we have at camp.
Every Guide camp should hoist a flag with ceremony every day (maybe not for the under tens). The best way to do this is to erect a flagpole. If you are camping at a bush site, perhaps you could throw a line over a branch and hoist your flag on that, or attach the flag to a tent. Make sure you remember to bring the flag down at sundown – put it on your program so that you don’t forget!
Most campsites do not have flags - you will need to bring your own. It doesn't matter if it's a national flag, a World flag or a Unit flag.
Brush up on how to build a flagpole using gadget wood, how to fold and hoist a flag, and how to do Colours. Your assessor will expect to see a respectful ceremony.
Have some sort of opening and closing ceremony for the camp, plus a ceremony every day. The daily ceremony can be something as simple as a Horseshoe formation where the leader checks that everyone slept well, has on the correct clothing, etc. Perhaps a brief prayer or reading could start the camp day, followed by announcements or instructions for the next activity.
Guides’ Owns are a traditional part of all Guide camps. Make them meaningful to the campers. A Guides’ Own should be more than three minutes long. It can be 15, 20 or 30 minutes. More than that is probably too long, less than ten is definitely too short. Your assessor will appreciate an invitation to your Guides’ Own.
There’s a page on Guides’ Owns here.
Camping is a perfect time to explore the outdoors, and to introduce outdoor activities to the program. Your assessor will expect to see a large proportion of your camp program devoted to outdoor activities. Explore this website for some ideas.
This is a traditional part of Guide camps, and serves several purposes. People often don’t sleep well at a camp – they are too excited, or unused to sleeping on the ground, or whatever. Also, girls often find that camping is tiring because they are doing so many things. A programmed rest period every day helps the campers to relax and regain some energy for the next activity. This is often programmed for after lunch, or between ablutions and dinner.
Yes, I know most Australian Guide units and patrols camp over two days, but we are learning how to be self-sufficient in the bush, remember? Part of that is being able to keep ourselves clean. There is nothing more relaxing than a hot bath in screening, looking at the stars. Make sure that every camper has a shower or a bath for every full day in camp. Traditionally, the First Aider is in charge of showers/baths, to ensure everyone's safety (many little ones do not use showers at home, and turning on a shower tap to the correct temperature can be a challenge), and keep times to a minimum. For outdoor camps, erect a clothesline for wet towels.
Guide camping is based on the Patrol System, just as the normal weekly Guide meetings are. Use your Patrol Leaders to give instructions, teach skills and keep the program on track. Many units have PL Council once at day at camp, so that everyone knows what’s going on. Your assessor will expect to see the Patrol System in action, even if you are camping with only one patrol.
Make up a list of duties that need to be done over the time you are in camp (see some examples here).
Even if you are camping as a patrol, you can allocate duties to specific people. Here’s an example:
Equipment and Safety
Know how to look after camping equipment that you use: how to store tools such as axes, spades, cooking utensils, tents, gadgets.
Also make sure that you know how to use the tools. Don’t use an axe or a bush saw if you’ve never been taught how. If you need to use an unfamiliar tool, ask your assessor to show you how to use and care for it.
Keep buckets underneath water taps, to stop puddles from forming.
Keep equipment out of the weather.
Make sure you know and use the safety precautions for all tools and equipment you use.
When working near a fire, make sure all hair is tied back, and that clothing will not get in the way.
When working with hot water, make sure you put cold water into the basin or bath before the hot water. Take the hot water to the receptacle, not the receptacle to the hot water (by that I mean, don't take the bath to the boiler: use a metal bucket to collect the water, and then pour it into the bath. Carrying a bath with hot water in it can cause accidents). Adult supervision around fires and hot water is a must.
Make sure you use hot water to wash up. Dry the teatowels on the clothesline you have made, or on the kitchen gadgets - don't put wet teatowels or bathtowels in bags.
Never allow girls into the kitchen without adult supervision. Always have an adult supervising food preparation and cooking.
Don't allow running in the house - the potential to barge into someone and hurt them is high.
Make sure the girls know what a fire alarm sounds like - some schools simply ring a bell three times for emergencies rather than use a standard fire alarm.
Have an emergency evacuation plan, and practise it.
An indoor camp is different to an outdoor camp. An outdoor camp at an established campsite is different to a bush camp.
Why am I telling you this? Because I have seen people try to include activities in their camp program that are not particularly well suited to the type of camp they are running.
An indoor camp has more time for activities, because the duties don’t take as long as they do at an outdoor camp.
The cooking at a bush camp will be different to the cooking at an established campsite with cooking utensils and fireplaces provided.
Make sure you have alternative activities in case of wet, extra hot or extra cold weather.
Assessors like to see innovative ways of cooking at camp. You can try cooking without utensils, cooking with a dutch oven, haybox, solar cooker, mud oven or coals.
Make sure you have a metal bucket full of water near every fire, in case of emergency. During total fire bans, make sure you have an alternative method of cooking that does not require naked flame. Know the local fire restrictions.
Learn the most efficient ways to lay and light fires. Don’t do what I saw recently: a leader who declared that she loves fires threw a bunch of sticks on the ground, and lit them using a huge wad of toilet paper. That’s not necessary if you take the time to learn how to build and light a fire that is appropriate to the type of cooking you intend to do. Try to light every fire, every time, with a maximum of two matches, like the original Guides and Scouts did: it's good training, good discipline, and cheaper. Sometimes I even challenge my Guides to light their fires with one match - the secret is to split it into two, and use each half-match separately.
For an assessment camp, you need to show the assessor that you are capable of feeding you and your campers in the outdoors. Here are a few things that you should NOT do with your cooking:
Take a gas bottle and stove for emergencies.
I recently saw some Guides cooking and attempting to eat totally black pancakes. When I suggested that they were inedible, I was told that the frying pan they were using was black, which is why the pancakes were black. My response to that was: (a) you’re going to make yourselves sick, and (b) clean the frying pan before you use it!
Make sure that you leave the cooking utensils in a better condition than they were in when you arrived at the campsite. At a recent camp we spent a couple of hours over the weekend cleaning some frying pans that were black on the cooking surface. There’s no excuse for leaving them like that.
If you are camping as a Unit, you will probably have one adult as the Catering Officer, or Cook, or Quartermaster, or whatever you want to call her. If you are camping as a Patrol, you could assign one person to fill this role, or roster it.
Your assessor will expect to see your food and supplies well organised, well stored, and away from animals and weather. If the campsite has a fridge, use it, but you should also know how to store food at camp in other ways, in case you go to an unequipped campsite. Try using eskies with ice in them for food that needs to be kept cold, hanging fruit in a hanging larder etc.
The Guide Motto is Be Prepared, especially at camp. Be prepared for wet, hot, cold, windy weather; tired campers; insufficient or wet wood or fuel sources etc. You will need to make an emergency plan for the camp - your assessor will ask to see it.
Make sure you have some interesting activities to do if your planned activities are cancelled due to the weather.
Make sure you have sufficient shelter for people to eat somewhere dry and shady.
Know the rules and regulations for the campsite and for Guide camps - look up the most recent edition of Guide Lines. Especially know the swimming, boating and adventurous activities requirements.
Make sure you and at least one other adult at camp is qualified in first aid, and check the first aid kit before you go to camp.
It is traditional to give the assessor a small gift, as a thanks for the time she has spent with you before camp, and at camp. She's a volunteer too, and she has given up her valuable time and knowledge to help you. A nice card signed by the campers (or just the person being assessed), and a small badge or craft item is probably sufficient, maybe something to remind her of you, or of your camp theme. Of course, if she's been particularly helpful, give her a big hug too!
Don't forget to evaluate your camp, especially if it is an assessment camp. Things will go wrong, and it's a good idea to write down a report to yourself of what went well, what didn't and how the next camp can be better.
At the end of every camp, I do several things:
Your assessor will expect to see your evaluation, and she will also probably arrange a meeting for you to discuss the camp.
The best known book for Guide camping in Australia is Let’s Go Camping, by Nancy Eastick. This book has been around for many years, and has recently been updated to include information on dome tents and other modern camping items. Look for it in your District Library or local Guide Shop. It’s a really good reference book.
Specific Guiding skills can also be found in the old Australian Guide Handbook, the Eight Point Program Activity books and other books that will be in your District Library. If you are in New South Wales, you’ll find a lot of skills in the Rainbow Skills packs.
Good luck with your camping, and don't forget to make it FUN!
The information presented on this page is not an exhaustive list of how to run a camp, nor of what an assessor will require of you. It's meant as a starting point. I'm very happy to include suggestions from other people, and I hope to give this page more information when I can. It was written in a hurry when two of my Guides decided they wanted to run their own camps.
This page is copyright. Please do not reproduce this material without my permission.
Additions to this page are welcome. Just email me.