Archive for the ‘Key to Camping’ Category

dr-seuss-clipart-dr_seussI’ve been writing this blog since January 2011 and it started as a way for our little group to keep track of the things we do year to year. We consult the blog often and walk the line between repeating the same things because they worked and introducing new things because they sound fun.

Camp is in a couple of weeks and we’re getting out of our comfort zone by introducing a THEME! I know that many of you already do themes, but we don’t. Our goal is to get our city kids out into the woods for walks, camp skills, and play time. A theme over and above that has been beyond our brains to accomplish and a packed schedule is too stressful.

But this year’s camp is over the April Fool’s day weekend and the element of silly that that brings is undeniable.

We’re going to go with the Dr. Seuss theme and now I’m looking at things like Girl Guide themed Mad Libs, and how to make Blue Spaghetti for Who Hash and Roast Beast Balls.

Oh my goodness…what have we done?

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There are lots of different names for this thing … ditty bag, dippy bag, dish bag, mess kit, dilly bag … it goes on and on. For us it is called a ditty bag and it is for dishes at camp.

  • The bag should be a cloth or net bag (or small reusable fabric grocery bag) with a drawstring or handle to hang it up with. Not too big – about the size of a folded tea towel like mine in the photo (any bigger and it drags on the floor). No plastic grocery bags – they keep the water in.
  • Inside you’ll put MARKED dishes and cutlery. Put the camper’s name on everything with labels, nail polish, sharpie markers, tape, or whatever you can do to make your stuff identifiable.
  • Dishes and cutlery should be plastic or metal. No glass please.
  • At camp, your camper will loop the drawstring over her arm, wash her dishes, then put the wet dishes in the bag to drip dry. We use a bit of bleach in the dishwater… the bag might fade or get some bleach blotches.



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Our unit is going camping soon and as part of the communications home to parents I found myself creating this illustrated explanation of how WE (the 119th Ottawa Brownies) would like bags to be waterproofed. I emphasize the WE part… other units may (almost certainly) have other instructions and ways of doing things.

Setting the stage: This is a residential camp (in a heated building) with bunks and mattresses provided. We want bags to be waterproofed so that they make it from the parking lot to the building (500 meters) on the way in, and so that they can be placed outside in whatever the weather to wait for parents on the way out of camp while we close the building on Sunday.


  • All items must be marked with the Camper’s name.
  • Make sure your camper packs her own stuff. One of the first things we do at camp is to say “please find your flashlight”. Girls who packed their own bags will know where to find it. Also, girls should be able to identify their own stuff too.
  • We allow clear recycling bags for waterproofing. Anything we can’t see through might be mistaken for garbage and you don’t want that.
  • Soft sided bags are important – we need things to be able to fit (squish) underneath a bunk. No hard sided suitcases or laundry baskets please.
  • In Girl Guides (and older years) girls may be asked to prepare a tarped rolled bedroll. This is too much for our residential Brownie camp. We’d prefer to spend the time outside playing over rolling up 20 bedrolls on Sunday.

Option One – Big Zip Bags.  I like this for my bedroll. 

BrownOwlWPBedroll BrownOwlWPBedroll2

Option Two – Line a Duffle Bag with a clear plastic bag. Put the clothes in the clear bag and make sure it is sealed tight. Zip the duffle bag over top. The outer bag may get a little wet, but the stuff inside will be nice and dry.


Option Three – Dry Bag – only if you have one. They’re about $20-$40 per bag – Available at Canadian tire and other camping stores.

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And there you go. Preparing to go to camp shouldn’t be expensive. Just ask questions, see what you can sub in or borrow, and do your best. Wishing you a dry camp.  =)

NEXT – look for Brown Owl Cara’s Ditty bag



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Girl Guides of Prince Edward Island shared this on their Facebook page today and I think this is COOL. We’re doing Key to the Arts (Act it Out) this year and this might be a nifty craft to make that happen.

Check out DIY Spoon Puppets from Kid Play Do.

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Brownies are going camping in the next couple of weeks and we’ve been quietly covering most of the Key to Camping requirements.  But there have been a few gaps and this meeting should fill those… but it won’t be very comprehensive for those of you covering this key (sorry about that).


6:30 Arrival Game – girls choice (the girls love making games up so it works).

6:40 Circle Inspections

6:50 Brownie Circle

7:00 Key to Camping

  • Discussion – Camping know how – Organize the food and cooking plans with your unit, so that everyone has a job. How do we organize ourselves at camp? (Patrols). what kind of chores do we do? What should our patrol names be this time?
  • Discussion – Lost & found in the outdoors Hug a Tree Program 
  • Teach (Which Way badge) – what are compasses? What are cardinal points?  An instrument containing a magnetized pointer that shows the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it. (Google)

7:15 – Game – Cardinal Points game from Becky’s site

7:25 – Activity – Compass Drawings from Becky’s site.  You need dots pages or graph paper, pencils.

7:35 – Introduce Thinking day – Guiding with Jewels has a great intro.  (we’ll do the first part of the discussion)

7:45 – Songs – featuring Hey Hey Hey, it’s Thinking Day and Twelve Days of Girl Guide Camp and a few other songs.

7:55 Close and wrap up.

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We’re planning a winter camp in February and this idea from www.cottagelife.com shows us what happens when you blow bubbles (a typical summer camp activity) in the winter. This experiment was done at -40 degrees (at that point it is so cold that both Celsius and Fahrenheit match up). We are hoping (please please please) for much warmer weather than that, but anything is possible in Ottawa in February. Snowy Owl is going to be angry with me for even suggesting that it might be -40 at camp.

Go to www.CottageLife.com to see what happens.

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Our recent Brownie Camp included a Be Prepared First Aid Kit made from film canisters (launched a neat discussion about film…NONE of them had heard of film!!), stuffed with gauze (useful for covering wounds), bandages, and alcohol wipes (there are two in the kit – first aider washes hands, and washes the cut). We put a small loop of yarn on the outside for pinning to a hat – stuck with a length of electrical tape (which is useful for taping gauze down) and a safety pin (always useful!).

Our first Aid kit contents:

You could add coins. Check out this film canister first aid kit from a Cub Scout group in Utah for other ideas.

firstaidkits2014-04-12 07.54.47

All tucked into the canister.

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Final product. (Wrap the electrical tape around 3 – 4 times to get a half meter of tape around the canister)

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Now that film (and the canisters) are almost non-existent, I asked the Facebook group for suggestions for something like film canisters. Here’s what they said:

  1. Diabetic Test Strip containers – about the size of a C Battery.
  2. Pill Bottles – I’m not a fan of teaching kids to open pill bottles, but they’d do. And someone said that there are easy open ones.
  3. Altoid Tins – they’re a little big, but would do
  4. Tic Tac or Gum Containers.
  5. Snack Baggies or small Jewelry baggies from the dollar store – always useful in a pinch.
  6. Buy dollar store small containers. I think I saw 6 for $1.
  7. Someone had a stash of breast milk containers.
  8. Expired medical sample bottles (unused)… ask your Doctor.
  9. Pool Water test strip containers.

Do you have any ideas?


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We discussed socks at length at our camp prep meeting a couple of weeks ago.  Cotton socks are a poor choice at winter camp because as we move around we sweat, and cotton keeps any dampness close to our bodies.  When we stop moving, the dampness gets cold (Guiders should read Choosing a Base Layer and Why Cotton Kills for more info).   The girls took the information home, but I thought the idea needed a little more reinforcement and I worked up a demonstration at camp with hints from Bluenose Guider’s Special Event: Tent Camping post.

  • Objective: To demonstrate how long it takes different fabrics to dry.
  • Method: Soak different types of fabric in water and allow them to dry on a line.
  • Supplies: A variety of fabric swatches – mine were cut up into pants shapes (Bluenose Guider’s were cut into mitten shapes), a clothes line and pins.  I pinned a fun-foam card identifying the fabric to each set of pants.  You’ll need a bowl of water to dunk the fabric in, and a hand-towel to wring a little water out so it doesn’t drip on the floor.pants 2014-01-25 04.29.42

Our drying results in order (keeping in mind that we did this in a heated building – not a damp tent site):

  1. Dark Green Polyester (napkin fabric – rough and scratchy)
  2. Stripey Wool
  3. Bright yellow Polyester sport fabric
  4. Burgundy Fleece
  5. Denim (this was a lightweight denim – next time, I’ll use a thicker one)
  6. Light blue Microfleece (so strange – I was expecting it to dry quickly)
  7. Orange cotton T-shirt
  8. White cotton Fleece

We tallied the results after supper on Saturday at camp and only the cotton things were still a little damp.   We talked about fabric that dries quickly is a good thing at camp, but you want to be comfy too.  Pick fabric blends for softness and warmth.  Avoid cotton.  Layer (the sport fabric under wool would be cozy and warm).   And, as suggested on Bluenose Guider’s site, I had little bits of the fabric to distribute to the girls to make a hat craft.  It was fun.

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Brownies slept over at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa on Friday and it was one of the best sleepovers we’ve ever had.  We hit the jackpot with a session leader who reviewed our Key to STEM requirements and who took the time to work out a program for us.  The girls loved the program and were super interested.  The leader hit all the points in STEM – people in science, caboosh, Stargazing (we even got to go out to the observatory!), building up… the whole thing.  The program ended around 9:15, and the girls were asleep by 10PM.  Without shushing and goofing around.  Our Owl team is pretty good at settling the girls down to bed, but even we were surprised.  You hear nightmare stories of girls being up all night… but, we’ve never had that happen.

  • Pros: Excellent program, neat place to sleep, they feed you breakfast (with coffee and tea for leaders) in the morning.  Excellent cell service so I was able to send e-mails to parents to update them on our evening (because, as much as this first outing is for us to suss out how the girls will do on a longer trip…it is possibly the first time the parents have left their girls for a non-Grandparent sleepover).  And the museum provides sleeping mats (so you don’t have to deflate 20 Thermarests).
  • Cons: Expensive – we charged $30 per girl to cover most of it with the unit budget covering the rest.  But we were blown away with the program.  In our opinion, we got a great deal.

As a public service for future sleepovers… I thought you would appreciate some direction about where to put your bed.  Some spots are better than others and you can’t tell until the lights are out… and once they’re out, you can’t move people around.

Where to put your bed at your next sleepover at the Museum of Science and Technology.

It was a great night.  If you’re looking for more info, check out Brownie Sleepover, Night at the Museum and don’t forget to advise the Fire Department that you’re in a building that isn’t usually occupied.

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One of the bigger concerns you’ll have when taking children to camp is dealing with their special diet needs. I am here to tell you that while special diets do add a layer of stress, they can be managed (just like everything else at camp) with planning and preparation. I recently managed special diets at Bridging Friends Forever 2013, an all-ages provincial camp hosted by Girl Guides NB-PEI. I hope my notes encourage you to overcome any fears you may have about handling the dietary needs of your campers.

I am not a dietitian or medical professional (I actually work in IT). But I learned a lot while supporting 55 campers with special diets (with the assistance of a Food Services Guider, a Chef and Camp Health Services). There was a wide range of needs at this camp-including vegetarians, diabetics and a mix of allergies/intolerances (some life threatening) to dairy, MSG, food dye, soy, corn, fresh fruit, yeast, wheat, gluten, peanuts, kiwi, strawberries, onions, fish, peppers and pork.  Most smaller camps have one or two special diets so don’t let this list scare you.

Are special diets real or are they just being picky? Skepticism is the unfortunate first reaction for many when they hear that someone can’t eat something.  I was asked often if “they can’t, or won’t eat?”  This experience showed me that I am blessed to be able to eat what I want. Campers need to know their food is safe for them and I was happy to be their advocate.  I hope you will be too.

What you need to find out/learn/ask/consider:

  • Start at the Health Forms: The camp cook needs to know about special diet needs as early as possible through the health forms and by speaking to parents.  Early information usually leads to simple changes in the general menu that allows everyone to eat the regular meal. With knowledge, you can educate yourself, shop sales and make a plan.
  • Make sure you’re clear on what you’re dealing with: I had one camper who was extremely allergic to onions in all forms (dehydrated,  powdered, cooked and raw) and another one who was allergic to onions but could eat onion powder.
  • Ask about the consequences: You want to know what will happen (and how to react) if the camper eats the wrong thing.
  • Is it a contact or consumption allergy? If it is a contact allergy (often peanuts and shellfish), you must not serve that food at camp. If it is a consumption allergy, you can direct campers away from allergy foods.  Typically, I’d say:  “The only dairy served at this meal is with the cereal and I have a soy milk alternative.”
  • Cross contamination: We had a toaster for the exclusive use of the gluten free folks.  We cooked the beef hotdogs before the pork ones and made sure they were kept separate.  When we cut up lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and celery we sealed some away, and then moved on to chop onions and peppers.  Ask parents what measures are necessary and think about setting up an allergy safe zone in the kitchen with cutting boards, knives, and cooking utensils that you know have not come into contact with other food that would be considered unsafe. Also ask about appropriate cleaning procedures.
  • Ask what they CAN eat: What specific brands does the camper eat at home?  Provide familiar food that you know she likes.  Keep things in original packages to avoid cross contamination and so that the camper can read the ingredients.
  • Getting help/looking for a camp cook: Resource Guiders and Guiders from other units are often thrilled to be asked to go to camp as a cook.  It’s a hard job, but it can be fun too.  I’ll bet there’s an experienced camp cook near you that can work with your special diet needs.
  • At a big camp you’ll be part of a team.  I reported to a Food Services Guider who had already gathered the important information and who had a a plan mostly in place.  During prep I followed the chef around…asking questions and reminding him to think about special diets.  “So what’s the vegetarian option?” “Are there peppers in that?” During service I consulted with campers and helped them decide what to eat (sometimes I just sent them to the main line, and other times I had special food for them at my table). At a smaller unit camp, the Camp Cook will probably also manage special diets (hopefully you’ll only have one or two).

But special food is expensive

  • Very true.  When my unit goes camping we’re on a strict budget and we can’t afford an $8 loaf of bread for one meal.  Get the parents involved – they can watch for sales or send something suitable from their own pantry.
  • Planning a big camp with catered meals? Be open about the number of special diets the caterer could expect.  At BFF we had 600 campers and almost 10% needed a special diet.  Not all 55 required expensive special food, but many did.

Campers with special diets don’t want to be singled out

  • Try to plan the general meal so that everyone can eat the same thing. By putting real food (not prepackaged) on your menu you’re more likely to be able to make a suitable meal for everyone.  A gluten free camper can usually eat potatoes and rice.  Rice flour is useful to thicken stew.  If you keep the components of a meal separate you can mix and match to suit all diets.
  • Remember that children are shy.  They’re more likely to go hungry than to ask for something in a strange environment.  At BFF some campers weren’t eating the whole fruit or hard veggies like carrot and celery sticks because of their braces.  We let them know that I had a knife and cutting board at my table for their fruit and we put cucumbers out on the veggie tray.  At another camp I had a Brownie who wasn’t eating because she forgot to put cutlery in her ditty bag and was too embarrassed to ask.  It pays to watch and listen.

But kids are picky eaters too

  • Sometimes the picky eater is actually someone with an eating disorder.  Eating disorders are likely new to you (they were to me!) and must be approached with compassion and understanding.  Talk to the parents to find out what the camper does eat.  Make a food plan (with the camper if possible) that everyone agrees on.
  • Make a plan for how to deal with picky eaters: In a perfect world kids will eat everything we put in front of them.  The strategy is to start talking about food early on in the unit meetings and to let the girls know that we will provide a balanced/safe meal and that they’ll be expected to eat what’s on their plate.  The reality is that if a camper isn’t eating you’re probably going to have to give them something.  At BFF campers visited my table looking for undressed salads, plain pasta, and unmixed meal components.  From time-to-time, Patrol Guiders asked for help with a particularly hard-to-feed camper and I found them a yogurt tube, cheese stick, or a slice of bread with a cheese wiz or jam packet.

Some tricks I learned:

  • Parents are your best advocates.  This is no surprise, but you’re not alone in this.  Ask for help.
  • Gluten Free: There are some really good breads, pastas and desserts available.  Read the labels, get suggestions, and get cooking instructions.  Watch for clearly marked gluten free packages.  It is important to check the ingredients every time.
  • Dairy Free: Almond milk (made from nuts!) was the preferred dairy alternative for putting in cereal and in coffee but it is not that tasty to drink. Soy milk in individual tetra packs is popular among dairy drinkers too… watch your stash so that your dairy-free camper gets priority.  Remember to reserve a portion of things like mashed potatoes before the milk goes in.  Milk cooked in food doesn’t seem to be a problem but ask to be sure.  And a person with a low grade dairy intolerance might be able to safely have a bite of cheese or some ice cream.
  • People with one allergy often have others.  A child who can’t eat gluten, may also be unable to eat peanuts or dairy. A camper who is allergic to latex (are you wearing gloves?) may also have a cross allergy to iceberg lettuce, bananas and kiwi.
  • Red dye and MSG are in almost all pre-packaged items.
  • Don’t forget about religious restrictions – Children who eat Halal, as well as some vegetarians, don’t eat marshmallows (the gelatin may come from animal bones).

Should I invite Mom to come to camp to help manage her daughter’s special diet?

  • Before you go this route, consider that camp is stressful and that Guider team chemistry is important. Adding a stranger into the mix should be done carefully and only as a last resort.  Adults with kids at camp should treat their child like another Brownie, use their Owl name, and limit cuddling to emergencies and bedtime.  That is tough to enforce with a stranger.
  • But it may be necessary and you can get them through the Non-Member Volunteer Application process fairly easily. Do the paperwork, let your parent helper know what’s expected of them and embrace the extra pair of hands.

Final words

I know this is a lot of information.  There is no easy or universal way to handle special diets, but I’ll tell you, my biggest Guiding accomplishment was when we took a camper who is extremely allergic to peanuts to her first ever Brownie camp.  A first aid trainer came in specially to let Guiders practice with an epi-pen.  Her mom helped plan the menu, shopped with us, and was a phone call away through the weekend.  We watched her like a hawk the whole time at camp.  It was stressful and such a relief when her mom picked her up at the end.  But it was important for that Brownie to be away from her family for the very first time ever.  And from that time on, the Brownie, her mom, and the Guiders knew she could be away and be safe.  It was a big deal for her.  It was a big deal for us.

Parents are your best sources of information. Work with them to make sure that you’re providing food that is safe for their child to eat.  Ask lots and lots of questions.  Parents should review your menu and possibly your groceries.  If the parent is comfortable they’ll be able to reassure their camper.  And if your camper is comfortable, your camp is likely going to go smoother as a result.  

Good luck with your camping adventures.  I hope this gives you the confidence to take a child with a special diet to camp.

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