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.
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!