Starting a new troop: the delusional beginning

You may not know it yet but last Monday night was historic. In the community room of our local REI a group of interested Scouts, former-Scouts, never-been-Scouts, and their parents met up with some of the adults that decided to start a new troop in our area.

We talked for a little while about the vision for the troop, a little about the timeline of getting started, and then sent the the parents over to talk to the Committee Chair while I talked with the Scouts. We talked for a bit about their past experience in Scouting, and some of the fun things they had done in the past. Before long they were brainstorming ideas of things they would like to do. It turned in to quite a list, and I am proud to say everything on that list is something absolutely doable. Once the PLC is up and running I plan on bringing out the list and seeing how they want to fit it into the calender.


So why would you want to start a Troop instead of joining an existing one?
I don’t know. I can just tell you the route we took that ended up with a brand new charter. Starting a troop is a lot of work, and you can’t do it alone. We have a great group of adults that are committed to creating a boy-led adventure machine that empowers scouts to lead their own troop. Without the buy-in of these other people the idea of a new troop is DOA.

Troop Visits
We live in an area with a number of troops within a reasonable driving distance, and like most parents of Webelos, this whole process began with visits to the troops in our area. Some were visits to meetings, others were joining the troops on camping trips. We have some bigger troops in our area (50-100 scouts), and some that are smaller. We have some troops that do parts of the program really well, and some that are more of a power trip for the adults in charge. Side note: if you are in my district and are reading this, that last part was not about your troop. Seriously.

Starting a new troop isn’t necessarily an indictment of other troops in the area. Each one takes on a unique personality, and every scout has different interests. There are backpacking troops, trailer camping troops, troops focused on advancement, troops focused on service. For the same reason that you should visit multiple troops when the scouts are Webelos, you should seek out other options when it becomes evident that the current troop isn’t a good fit for a Scout.

The more troops we visited the more often we talked about starting one. The main reason was to offer an option to scouts that didn’t find a good fit in the existing troops. This new troop wasn’t to replace the others in our area, just to offer another option before they started dropping scouting entirely.


Shared Vision
I really wasn’t that keen on starting a troop in the beginning discussions. Why in the world would I want to build something from scratch? That sounds like a lot of work. I asked a lot of questions. I read a lot of stuff. I even went on Clarke’s podcast to discuss it with his Scoutmaster panel on episode 145. The more we talked the less ridiculous it looked. One thing really stuck with me from the podcast: “Starting new units is how Scouting grows.” If this is a program we believe in, growing it should be something we are all working on at some level.

As we moved closer to starting the troop I bought a few more copies of the book “Working the Patrol Method” and gave them out to the people that had expressed an interest helping out. Starting out on the same page, understanding the role of adults in a scout-led troop, and understanding the bigger picture gives us the foundation against which we can measure future structure and activities.

Working the patrol method

Location, Location, Location
Once we began to discuss the idea of starting a troop, we needed to find a meeting location. Our Charter Org doesn’t have meeting facilities, so we were looking for a good meeting place in our community. The great thing was that we were able to locate it in an area further north and to the west, in an area that says is not currently served by a Boy Scout troop. There are a few nearby packs that we can help with activites, and a lot of newer subdivisions that have been built out over the last decade. Problem is our new meeting location isn’t completely built yet, so we had to find somewhere else to have the first meeting. Hence the opening reference to the community room at the local REI.

Changing Troop Culture vs. Setting Troop Culture
One thing that was difficult to get straight was the idea of starting from scratch. Even the most dysfunctional troops (again, not really talking about anybody specifically) have an existing structure and organization. That starting point is a big help when you look at all the pieces of a functioning troop. Starting from zero means that all these pieces have to be created for the first time. Talking with local Scoutmaster the other day he told me it took six years to change the troop culture from what he found when he started. Six years of incremental changes to get the unit functioning like the vision. There is always going to be some resistance from those that have already invested years of their time in a unit, and nobody is going to take kindly to the “new guy” coming in and making wholesale changes in the first month. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the “new guy” is.

"Here comes the new Scoutmaster!"

“Here comes the new Scoutmaster!”

Potential Scouts
The last thing that sealed the deal was the discussions with potential scouts. The first set was obviously the boys that are in the Webelos den together. We put it out there as an option along with the other choices with the other troops we visited. The answer has been an unequivocal “We want to stay together and we want to help start a new troop.” The next potential scouts we talked to were older boys that have left the scouting program in the last couple years. Talking to them one on one, we discussed what they liked about scouting, why it didn’t work out for them, and then what we had as a vision for this new unit. With enough interest to get started, we worked the paperwork side of things, set up the informational meeting, and invited other families in scouting to join us. The goal wasn’t to “steal” scouts away from existing units, just to let them know about what we were doing so they could join us if they wanted to. Many passed on the opportunity, as they were perfectly happy where they were at. Which is just fine, the goal is to offer scouting to as many boys in our area as possible, not some sort of score of us vs. them with the other troops.

Caveat Emptor
All of this is may sound idealistic and self-congratulatory, but the truth is that the jury is still out as to the success of this venture. We have no idea if this troop is going to end up like we had envisioned it, or if it will even still be around in five, ten, or twenty years. The whole thing is an experiment, and I am sure some of the things are not going to turn out even remotely as planned. But nothing is set in stone, and the best we can do is evaluate, change course, and drive on. Time will tell!

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Science, Technology, Engineering, Math… and Scouting?

Scouting is outdoor adventure like camping, backpacking, climbing and canoeing, right? Does that leave the technology-heavy learning to a realm outside of Scouting? Not exactly.

This video from has been making the rounds of the internet, and it got me thinking about how we teach kids about programming. Take a look…

  • Teamwork is essential? Collaborating and building together?
  • Taking it upon yourself to learn a new skill?
  • Breaking down complex problems into a plan that can be executed in a series of steps?

A few Scouting-related themes seem to resonate throughout the video. These are the same underlying lessons that are taught in a Boy-Led Troop as they plan and execute the outdoor adventures. So does being a Boy Scout make you a better Computer Scientist?


The STEM encouragement permeate throughout Scouting. Outside of the rank advancement system, merit badges are a significant part of recognition for Scouts. In the Boy Scout program merit badges are designed to introduce Scouts to topics they may not see in other places, and allow them some freedom to pursue things that are interesting to them.


The Greater Saint Lewis Area Council has quite a page on the STEM programs within the BSA, and have the following list of merit badges that have significant STEM content.

STEM-Related Merit Badges
The National BSA office has deemed the following as STEM related merit badges: Animal Science, Astronomy, Bird Study, Chemistry, Computers, Drafting, Electricity, Electronics, Energy, Engineering, Environmental Science, Forestry, Geology, Insect Study, Inventing, Mammal Study, Medicine, Model design and Building, Nature, Nuclear Science, Oceanography, Personal Management, Photography, Plant Science, Reptile and Amphibian Study, Robotics, Soil and Water Conservation, Space Exploration, Surveying, Veterinary Medicine, and Weather. There are 21 other badges that have fewer STEM-related requirements involved.

There are even more coming. The Game Design merit badge was just launched, and in the next few years there will be Programming, Digital Technology, Animation, Multimedia, Computer-Aided Design, and Advanced Computing. How is that for choices? Even the most tech-savvy Scout can find a challenge in there.


Well, there’s more. Last year the BSA launched the Nova program for all levels of Scouting, Cub Scouts through Venturing. Activities that can be built into Pack Meetings, Troop campouts, or pursued individually. There are levels of achievement and recognition in a tiered system that encourages Scouts to dig deeper if they are interested. Back in January when Clarke Green and I kicked off we started with a presentation on the BSA’s STEM/Nova program. Take a look at the recording for more information from Lisa Balbes and Matt Myers on how Scouting is incorporating more STEM-related topics into the Scouting program through the Nova and Supernova program.

Scouting is much more than camping, knots and outdoor adventure (though that is a big part). Today’s Scouts also have the opportunity to learn programming, robotics, nuclear science, inventing, and a whole host of other topics.

Categories: Engineering, Leadership, Pack, School, Science!, Scouts, Troop, Work | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sailing, Swimming, and Challenges

My son wants to go to sailing camp this summer with his cousins in California, and approached my wife and I about it around Christmas time. When we talked about it we made a deal: I would sign him up for the camp when he passed the BSA swim test.

For the last couple months he has been spending quite a bit of time in the pool, even swimming laps on his own when we would head to the pool for the open swim time. Watching him I didn’t think he would have a problem, but in his mind he obviously wasn’t so sure. He worked really, really hard, staying focused over the span of weeks and months. One might even say he has been “Minecraft focused”.

Earlier Aquanaut work at Resident Camp

Earlier Aquanaut work at Resident Camp

Last weekend his Webelos den met at the pool to cover the Aquanaut Activity Badge. When they finished, the Den Leaders offered the chance for any interested Scout to take the full swim test. I could tell he was nervous before his turn, but other than some words of encouragement I left him to sort it out inside his head.

He cranked right through it without a problem. When we congratulated him at the end, he was over the moon with excitement. I think he has been on cloud nine ever since.

Scouting has a range of challenges, and the reward to the individual Scout for meeting that challenge is immeasurable. Scouting has tiered some of the challenging activities into age appropriate categories, but we should remember that what is challenging varies from Scout to Scout. Sometimes the things that look challenging from an adult perspective are breezed through while some we don’t even register as a problem are the Scout’s biggest fear.

Challenges are a part of the adventure we promise the Scouts.

Challenges are a part of the adventure we promise the Scouts.

We shouldn’t shield them from the challenges, just be mindful of the struggle for each Scout. If we removed the challenge, we would rob those Scouts of the experience of overcoming it. Without the challenge, adventure would disappear and they would become tourists in an outdoor club.

Categories: Den, Family, Fitness, Pack, Scouts | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where did Scouting get the Neckerchief?

If Sir Robert Baden-Powell was a British war hero, how did Scouting end up with the campaign hat and neckerchief as symbols, two items very much from the American West?

Good question, I say.

Actually, it is a question that never crossed my mind until the beginning of a presentation at our council’s Wood Badge Breakfast last weekend.


Turns out, BP met this guy named Frederick Russell Burnham during the wars in Africa. Burnham was an American that spent many years as a scout for the U.S. Army in the west, serving during campaigns against the Apache and Cheyenne. When he figured the west was getting too tame, he took off for Africa where he volunteered to help the British Army. While there he taught Baden Powell about scouting (the military kind) and woodcraft. This later became BP’s basis for Scouting for Boys and ‘scoutcraft’ (along with the work of Seton and the Woodcraft Indians)

A sketch of Burnham by Baden Powell

A sketch of Burnham by Baden Powell

During the time Burnham and BP rode together in the Second Matabele War, he taught Baden Powell quite a bit about (military) scouting, tracking, fieldcraft, and self-reliance. Due to his contributions, Frederick Russel Burnham is often referred to as the “Father of Scouting”. This was also the time when Baden Powell started wearing his signature campaign hat and neckerchief.

After he returned to the United States Burnham involved with the (Boy) Scouting movement. The BSA made him an Honorary Scout in 1927, and awarded him the Silver Buffalo in 1936 for his service to the Scouting movement. He remained active in Scouting and continued his friendship with Baden Powell for the rest of his life.

So there you go. Frederick Russel Burnham, the “Father of Scouting”

Too bad the mustache didn't catch on as well.

Too bad the mustache didn’t catch on as well.

Categories: Pack, Scouts, Training, Troop | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Philmont Leadership Challenge

“Why are you here and what do you expect to get out of this course?”

That’s a pretty different way to kick off a BSA training course. Truth is, I signed up for the Philmont Leadership Challenge after learning these five things:

  1. It was at Philmont
  2. It builds upon the training you receive during Wood Badge
  3. It was at Philmont in the fall
  4. It was entirely outdoors with no classroom work
  5. It was in the Philmont backcountry in the fall

sunrise on the tooth

Actually, I had not really thought much beyond the desire to spend a week in the Philmont backcountry working on outdoor skills. Who really needs more of a reason than that? But I should have known that something called a “Leadership Challenge” would have much more in store for me. When asked the question at the beginning of the course, and after listening to some of my crewmates’ responses, I told Sue (one of our Crew Guides):

“Well, one of the criticisms of Wood Badge for the 21st Century is the lack of training in outdoor skills for Scout Leaders. When I heard this course would be entirely outside I thought I would try it and see if this course fills that gap.”

Little did I know that answer would come back to haunt me over the next week. Hanging bear bags, cooking dinner in the rain, working a map and compass, finding a stump to sit on and write in my journal, walking back from the showers early in the morning, or watching the early morning sun’s rays hitting the Tooth of Time. Sue was there, smile on her face, asking me if it was “outdoors enough” for me.

IMG_4354-001 (1)

The Philmont Leadership Challenge (PLC) parallels the National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE) much in the same way Wood Badge parallels National Youth Leader Training (NYLT), providing a common framework for leadership between Scouting’s youth leaders and the adult mentors.

Much like Wood Badge is organized into patrols with Troop Guides assigned to provide guidance, PLC is organized into crews with two Crew Guides to help participants through the week. Crews are named for the different camps (and the history around Philmont) and I way honored to be a part of the Rayado Crew, grouped with six of the finest Scouters I have ever met (waves to Bill, Dan, Jane, Chris, Dave, and Susan). Our Crew Guides were Sue and Robert, we couldn’t have hoped for better mentors.


The course was held at Rocky Mountain Scout Camp, near the Stockade and the base of the Tooth of Time. RMSC is also where they host NAYLE, though it sounds like our course was the last one at that site, with future PLC and NAYLE camps at a new site they are building near Rayado.

Outdoor Skills
As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that drew me to the course it that it is outdoors for the whole week. As a crew we camped together, cooked together, learned together and served together. Much like patrols of scouts we grew as a team together. We cooked our meals on MSR stoves, met with our Crew Guides around the picnic table, and gathered with the rest of the course for all sorts of activities. The last part of the week included a short backpack trip to Lover’s Leap Meadow camp at 7,280 feet, with the requisite packing, tent and fly set up, and all of that.


Beyond Wood Badge
One unexpected thing about PLC was the common experience from our past. Wood Badge isn’t just a prerequisite for the course, it provides a common framework we were able to use while discussing experiences and challenges throughout the week. Sometimes they were deliberate, guided reflections with our Crew Guides, other times I noticed Wood Badge terms being used in one-on-one conversations with other participants. We actually had a crew gathering in the evening called “Beyond Wood Badge” where we talked about the practical application of the principles, and discussed scenarios where they applied.

  • Stages of Team Development
  • Ethical Decision Making
  • The value of feedback

The week was far from just a series of group meetings and discussions around the picnic table. When you gather a group of Scouters from around the country that are willing to travel all the way to Philmont, have already participated in many of the training course the BSA offers, and have taken on leadership roles in everything from local units up to the Area and Regional structures, practical exercises become the norm instead of static lectures. Throughout the week we worked together as Crews or larger groups as we learned new skills. Each time as we faced a new challenge we dealt with differing levels of experience, different comfort levels, and a common goal as a group. Hmmm. That sort of sounds like what a patrol experiences, who would have thought?

IMG_4540-001 (1)

Some were overt teamwork exercises like the Challenge Course at Philmont’s COPE course. Others were teaching and/or learning new skills like Wilderness First Aid, Geocaching, Maps and UTM Coordinates, or radio use and protocol. The skills modules culminated at the end of the week with a Search and Rescue exercise coordinated between all the Crews on the course.

Servant Leadership
Though the week had a lot of work on team development and Wood Badge topics, there was the underlying theme of servant leadership throughout the course. There is no better place to understand the power of servant leadership than in the middle of the gift that Waite and Genevieve Phillips provided to the BSA and has subsequently touched the lives of a million Scouts and thousands of Scouters. Participants end the week with a commitment to the things learned during the course, not unlike working a ticket. However, this commitment is personal and the only one to hold you accountable is yourself.


“I do hereby promise on my honor as a Scout that I will be a servant leader, primus inter pares, first among equals, Helping individuals grow and succeed for the good of all. As the sundial measures the passage of time, so will my service be measured over time by my impact on others.” –Leader’s Oath

This year’s course is filling up, so register soon if you want to get in on the Fall 2013 course. But don’t just take my word for it, here is a quote from Paula Sind-Prunier on the 2012 Course’s Facebook Page:

“Luckily, my daughter (a Venturer) inspired me to take the Philmont Leadership Challenge… it’s what’s I call ‘what’s beyond Wood Badge.’ It’s the only advanced leadership training for adults that BSA offers for Wood Badge-trained adults. I encourage you to look into it. Bring your Wood Badge-trained friends. Like Lord Baden Powell emphasized–it’s ‘fun with a purpose.’ I had a great time at PLC– but just like Wood Badge… it strengthened my commitment to Scouting. Do it. The next generation of kids–who will become our leaders–depend on it.”

Categories: Leadership, Pack, Scouts, Training, Troop, Work | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

First aid for when help is going to take some time

Most first aid training is based on a “rapid response” assumption. That is to say that you are less than 30 minutes from an Emergency Medical Service response. Scouts are often doing things in areas where that response is much, much further away. So what to do? Take an EMS team with you? Charter an ambulance? Wrap everyone in bubble wrap? Stay home?

As Scout Leaders we are supposed to manage risk, not avoid it. One of the ways to manage it is make sure we and our Scouts have training in outdoor-oriented first aid. The Fieldbook discusses it as part of risk management:

Outdoor-Oriented First Aid

Take care of yourself, and you will be far less likely to have trouble on the trail. You also will be much better able to help others deal with difficult situations.

We often go to remote areas to get away from it all, but among the things we are getting away from is quick access to emergency support and care. If someone has an accident in an American city, dial 911 and an emergency team will probably be on the scene in minutes, ready to treat injuries and to provide transport to a medical center.

The farther that group members are from medical facilities, the more important is their ability to deal with emergencies on their own. Responding to incidents during trek adventures can involve not only immediate treatment, but also evacuating ill or injured persons to the frontcountry, or stabilizing them and maintaining their safety for hours or even days until medical assistance arrives.

Those who intend to travel in the backcountry should prepare themselves with first-aid training, ideally including training in caring for injured and ill persons in remote settings. Among the training courses available in various parts of the country are Red Cross Wilderness First Aid Basic, Wilderness First Responder, Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, and Mountaineering Oriented First Aid.

My wife and I spent two days in a course in Advanced and Wilderness First Aid put on by Aurora Medical Team. AMT provides a lot of the medical support for scouting events like Camproees and the Scout Show, and I found out they are also Explorer Post 525.


It was a lot of information, always moving and with a good mix of lecture (with loads of gross YouTube videos of accidents), hands-on exercises, and guided discussion. Sometimes work was individual, sometimes in pairs, and a few times we broke up into larger groups. The class was mostly Scouters, with quite a few Boy Scouts and a company from the Young Marines program.

During one of the CPR sessions I was paired up with the Scouter who sat behind me and I found out that his was the second car on the scene of the accident that killed three Scouts and their Scoutmaster on the drive home from summer camp last year. They performed CPR for 30 minutes until EMS arrived on the scene of the accident, so remote protocols aren’t just for the backwoods trail, sometimes they are just on the side of the highway. You could see the pain and hurt in his eyes as we talked about it, I can’t imagine how hard that must have been.


Things we covered:

  • Basic life support for breathing and cardiac emergencies (CPR) with lots of information on airways, oxygen, bag-valve-mask, and advanced rhythms for different CPR situations
  • Controlling bleeding and managing shock
  • Safety and prevention issues
  • Bones and joint care, splinting and wrapping
  • Wound care and soft tissue injuries
  • Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
  • Rescuing and moving victims
  • Cold and heat injuries
  • Poisoning and prevention
  • Primary and secondary victim assessment
  • Caring for special injuries and medical emergencies
  • Trauma management
  • Accident scene procedures and multiple victims
  • Special techniques for illness and injuries
  • Special situations, behavioral emergencies, pregnancy and childbirth
  • Advanced resuscitation techniques
  • Wilderness first aid and remote care protocols
  • First Aid Kits
  • Oxygen use and emergency airways

When it was all said and done we left with an admonition to make sure we practice these new found skills and certifications in CPR/AED (Healthcare Provider/Professional Rescuer) and Advanced/Wilderness First Aid. I thought it was a very worthwhile course and I learned a lot of things. While I hope I never have to use them, I feel well prepared for the sort of things I would be likely to see out with the Scouts. At $80 for the course, it wouldn’t break the bank to take it every few years, either.


If you have lots of time you can read through all our slides here. It’s 54 MB, so it might take a bit to download.

Categories: Scouts, Training, Troop | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Birthday

Sir Robert Baden-Powell was born on February 22, 1857 making today his 154th birthday.

After returning from Africa as a hero in the Bohr War he noticed his military manual “Aids to Scouting” was being used by boys all round the country. In 1907 he organized the first camp at Brownsea Island where he tested the ideas put forth in his book “Scouting for Boys” (later published in 1908). That was the beginning of the Scout Movement. His World Organization of the Scouting Movement is still going strong. Quite a legacy he has left us!


Happy Birthday, Sir!

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Eagle Scout: Merit Beyond the Badge

Today, the BSA National Council is drawing attention to a study conducted by Baylor University. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, this was an independent study of the differences between adults that were Eagle Scouts, had been Boy Scouts, and those that were never Scouts. You can read the entire report here. After reading through the study it is no wonder that the BSA is advertising the results!


According to the Baylor study, later in life Eagle Scouts are more likely than non-Scouts to:

  • Have higher levels of planning and preparation skills, be goal-oriented, and network with others
  • Be in a leadership position at their place of employment or local community
  • Report having closer relationships with family and friends
  • Volunteer for religious and nonreligious organizations
  • Donate money to charitable groups
  • Work with others to improve their neighborhoods

The final paragraph of the report concluded like this:

In sum, when compared to Scouts and non-Scouts, Eagle Scouts exhibit significantly higher levels of health and recreation, connection, service and leadership, environmental stewardship, goal orientation, planning and preparedness, and character.

Sounds good to me.


However, those are some strong claims. As a Scout Leader I have to wonder, are we still providing the same benefit today? The first Cub Scouts I had the honor to lead won’t turn 30 for another 17 years, so I guess the jury is still out on my particular corner of the program. However, I can look at the Scouting program as it sits today and draw some pretty clear associations between the activities of Scouts and the results of the Baylor study.

Goal oriented and preparation skills? As Clarke has pointed out, preparation and planning are explicit actions expected of Scouts as they plan and execute the outdoor adventures. As long as they are the ones doing the planning and the preparing.
Leadership positions at work and in the community? Spending time in front of a group of Scouts as their “leader” is a quick lesson in where authority, motivation, and leadership are sourced. Lesson #1 is just because you have the position, doesn’t mean they are going to listen. Without the mentorship and training these lessons get lost, and with it goes the understanding of leadership.
Closer relationships to friends and family? Time builds relationships. Spend time with your friends in Scouting, and you are going to be closer friends. Camping and shared outdoor adventures bring Scouts and their family and friends together in ways that the Wii and Xbox can’t. Ask an Scout what his favorite campout was and the answer is almost always one where the weather or other challenges brought them closer to their friends.
Volunteer for organizations and working with others to improve their neighborhood? After spending 6 or 7 years working on service projects and leading one of their own choosing, it isn’t a big leap to think the Scout has made the connection with the power of volunteerism. Service is an important part of an Scouting program.

Well, that’s great that we are helping the 4% that achieve the Eagle Rank. What about the other 96% that don’t get that far? Have we failed them? One other thing I noticed as I read through the report- in many places there were not statistical differences between the Eagle Scout group and those that were Boy Scouts that did not achieve the Eagle rank. This study is one more thing that points out the benefit of Scouting isn’t in that red white and blue ribbon they earn at the end, it is found in the journey to get there.

Categories: Family, Fitness, Leadership, Research, Scouts, Troop | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Ways to Help Webelos Transition to Boy Scouts

Our Blue and Gold Banquet is next week, and that has me thinking about the Webelos to Scout transition. There is quite a bit of difference between the Cub Scout program and the Boy Scout program (or at least there should be) and often Scouts struggle with the the change as they leave Cub Scouting behind. It often takes a new Boy Scout a year (or more) to successfully make that transition of mindset to what is needed in Boy Scouts. For those that don’t make the transition, often the result is leaving the program at some point in the first year. That group is no small number of boys, as it is not uncommon for troops to lose half (!) of the crossover scouts in the first year.


So how can we help prepare these new crossovers? Five things quickly come to mind for me, if you have others, feel free to add them in the comments.

1. Let the Scouts choose which activity badges to work on
Earlier in the Cub Scout program it is the Den Leader that sits down with the book and decides which activities to have the boys participate in throughout the year. As they get older, let them have a hand in deciding what they are going to do. We have two dens of first year Webelos, and the Den Leaders split up the activity badges and each den covered half of them. The boys in both dens were invited, and could choose which pins they wanted to earn. If they were really motivated they could chase all twenty (with some work on their own). Why is this important? First, whey they get to Boy Scouts there is a dizzying array of choices for things to pursue, which can be discouraging. This lets them see that they don’t have to do everything. Second, it gives them a bit of ownership of the program, helping them to understand that they can direct what activities they are involved in.

2. Den Camping
Once they become Webelos (and with proper training for the adults), the Den can go on their own camping trips. This smaller subset allows for more targeted activites that teach camping skills to the Scouts and the increased number of camping trips helps to get the boys comfortable with preparing for and attending outings. The more of these Webelos-specific trips that are offered, the more time they have to practice putting up a tent or dining fly, learning to cook and clean up meals on trips, and how to pack and dress for different weather that they will encounter as a Boy Scout. There is the added benefit of providing a much better location for teaching scout skills than any indoor classroom.


3. Visit multiple Troops
Not all Boy Scout Troops are the same, and what connects with one Webelos may not with the next. Even if your Scouts traditionally all go to one unit it would be beneficial to go to a couple more. In addition to visiting the meetings, try to get out camping with the different Troops. Those outings will tell you (and your Webelos) a lot about how that particular Troop operates. Not having them cross over as one monolithic block isn’t a failure, it is giving the new Boy Scouts every chance to succeed. It also exposes them to other ways of doing Scouting so they know they can change units if their initial choice isn’t working out.

4. Use the Webelos to help with the Pack Meeting
By the time they get to 4th Grade, many of these Scouts have been attending pack meetings for three years. It is difficult to keep things engaging and interesting for 4th and 5th graders without losing the interest of the 1st graders, so one option is to engage the older Scouts in helping with the program. Our October Pack Meeting was a life-sized version of Angry Birds where the Scouts painted pumpkins like their favorite Angry Bird then launched them with a six-foot slingshot we had outside. The target was a bunch of pumpkins painted like the pigs stacked on boards and five gallon buckets. Who reset the pigs and buckets after every shot? The Webelos. I’m not sure who was having more fun.

Angry Birds

5. Have the Scouts physically take their books to the Den Leader to be signed.
One change for Webelos from earlier ranks is that the parents can no longer sign off requirements in the book. Is that because parents suddenly became untrustworthy? No, it is one more way to prepare the Webelos for Boy Scouts. Having a parent bring the book to the Den Leader is a no-go too. Even though it is likely the parents and the Den Leader know what requirements have been completed, it is important to have the Scouts approach the Den Leader and get them to sign the book. Why is this important? When they get to Boy Scouts it will be necessary for the Scout to take the initiative to bring his book to his Patrol Leader when he feels that a requirement has been completed. This is one step in getting him to that point.

These five things are not ground-breaking or novel in any way, but we have found them to be important for that crucial first year in a Boy Scout troop. Do you have other things that you have found effective during the transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, either from the perspective of the Pack or the Troop? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Categories: Pack, Pack Meetings, Scouts, Troop | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Proposed Changes to the BSA Membership Policy

Today the Boy Scouts of America sent out a statement about changes they are discussing that would remove the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.

In part it reads:

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”


While I welcome the news, I have to remind myself that this is an announcement that there is a discussion, not a final determination. I sincerely hope it is a sign that the current prohibiting national policy will be revoked allowing local Charter Organizations (COs) to enact policies that are consistent with the values of their organization.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

Many people will claim that this is the National Council “passing the buck” or “not taking a stand”, but in actuality it would put the sexual orientation issue on the same footing as any other membership question. For example, while the BSA is not tied to a specific religion, there are plenty of Troops, Packs, and Crews that are. I have met Scouts from units that are all members of the same church, chartered by that church and restricted in membership to families in that church. That works for them, and has no impact on the other units I know that are Muslim (chartered by a mosque), Orthodox Jews (chartered by a neighborhood religious organization), or have a mix of many faiths like my pack, chartered by a secular organization. This allows the BSA to be partners with a wide range of organizations with diverse principles, families to participate while teaching their own held religious beliefs. When these units gather at Scouting events, they find that they aren’t that different after all, and we get one step closer to Baden Powell’s idea of worldwide Messengers of Peace.


Personally, I hope this change is enacted by the National Council. The opportunity to join Scouting is something that should be offered to every kid, the things that are learned around leadership, service, values, and citizenship are not the sole domain of any one group.

If this is implemented there will be a lot of hand-wringing, many loud statements of how this is ruining the Boy Scouts of America, and some may leave Scouting all together. Then the rest of us will get back to work, doing our best to teach service and citizenship to Scouts around the county, and in a few months the hysteria would die down. Eventually we would look around and see that the change did not destroy Scouting, and it actually brought us closer to living the principles we try to teach.

Remember, it’s not a done deal yet.

Categories: Scouts | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments