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Hiking and Backpacking
We have eight scouts preparing for a 5-day backpacking trek in July. On Monday we met for some skills review. The scout that presented stove use did a great job other than turning on the gas 'before' lighting the match and leaning over the top of the stove to reach the gas valve on the far side. :-) That's the only time I intervened.

We're busy doing practice hikes and getting used to carrying backpacks. Each scout is doing the Hiking merit badge and a couple are also taking on the Backpacking m.b.

The first scout to make a trip plan for a hike used Google and mapped out our route and then saved it as a JPG image and emailed it to everyone. Pretty darn cool! It was 10.3 miles and everyone got to lead part of the way and get 1 of their 5 10-mile hikes completed.

I've added a couple PDFs to the Hiking and Backpacking merit badge pages for a Trip Plan, Time Control Plan, and Backcountry Injury Report. This might be helpful for scouts working on those merit badges.

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Posted: 10:50 05-24-2007 148
Scout Advancement Videos
Check out the Boy Scout Advancement videos on the official BSA site.

There's some pretty good insight into the direction BSA is going with the program components. The videos are big downloads and need Quicktime.

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Posted: 23:57 05-22-2007 147
High Adventure Directory
Looking for a new adventure? There are about 80 programs listed in the online Council High Adventure Directory segregated by state or region.

If your troop is looking for something new to try next summer, check out these programs including canoeing, backpacking, caving, horseback riding, sailing, whitewater, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
The directory lists all council-operated high-adventure trekking programs that span at least five nights and six days. A few programs of lesser duration are included as specialty adventure programs.

Listings include a point of contact, program description, duration, cost, and directions to site.

If your council's high adventure program is not listed, there's a form for a council representative to enter the program info.

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Posted: 9:22 05-20-2007 146
Habitat for Humanity
I've just spent the past two days at a Habitat for Humanity project in our community. Four homes are being built to provide affordable housing in a nice neighborhood for four families. What a terrific time!

It was great to be outside and get dusty, sweaty, and tired while getting to know some people from my church a bit better. I was the youngest there besides the couple of Habitat college-aged guys that are spending a year with the program. Most people were retired since it meant working during the week.

Seems to me Habitat could be a great thing for stronger, more mature scouts to try. I understand they couldn't use power tools, but there's a lot of manual labor work to be done too. I'm going to check and see if there are opportunities for scouts after school gets out.
Have any of you had scouts do Habitat or similar building projects?

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Posted: 18:32 05-18-2007 145
BSA Camp Staff
My son will be a Counselor In Training (CIT) at a local council BSA camp the first half of this summer. He's hoping to get hired on for the second half also.

If you've got some guys that just aged out of your troop and are looking for an exciting summer, check out this BSA High Adventure Staff Needed page. The contact info for Philmont, Northern Tier, and Sea Base are listed.

If not this summer, then it's something you can talk to your scouts about for next summer if they are looking for awesome summer work.

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Posted: 19:49 05-17-2007 144
Serve Actively
For Star, Life, and Eagle advancement, scouts need to demonstrate leadership. The requirements in the Scout Handbook say to "serve actively" in a position of leadership, but there is no official definition of what that means. This is a cause of concern for lots of troops and I received an email yesterday asking about it.

How do you know if a scout is serving actively or just wearing the patch? How does a Scoutmaster decide to give him advancement credit or not?

Lots of troops have developed a list of expectations for each leadership position. Here's an Example PDF file. Many of these lists can be viewed on troop web sites. All of them are similar, but not identical.

Having a list of expectations is a fine idea because it makes it more clear to the scout and scoutmaster what a scout should accomplish. As long as the scoutmaster can remain flexible and use it as a set of expectations and not absolute requirements, it should work.

Every scout has a different level of experience and ability when he takes on a job. I might expect a Life scout who used to be the ASPL and SPL and is now Librarian to accomplish much more than a 1st Class scout fulfilling his first troop role as Librarian. If a scout is doing his best and demonstrating leadership, but still not fulfilling all the expectations, then he is serving actively.

I believe the best way to ensure a scout is serving actively is to check his accomplishments against his goals every month. To do this, he first needs to set some goals and that is where the list of expectations is helpful. Either the SPL or ASPL should be checking on his accomplishments, not the Scoutmaster. Then, the SPL and ASPL can discuss the status of each position with the Scoutmaster, including their own status.

By having a quick SPL/ASPL/Scoutmaster status check every month, like before or after the Patrol Leader Council meeting, scouts not serving actively can be identified before its too late and they can be encouraged to step up and get their job done.

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Posted: 9:23 05-16-2007 143
Mt. Rushmore Flags
I found an interesting page at Mount Rushmore that lists the Schedule of Events. The cool thing is you can see all the different scouting units that are scheduled to participate in their evening flag ceremony.
Unfortunately, our troop is not listed because sign-ups began in January and we were too late. So, if your troop would like to lower the Mt. Rushmore flag, start planning way ahead of your trip!

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Posted: 15:16 05-13-2007 142
Hiking the Kinks Out
In a couple months, 10 of us will be backpacking for 5 days above 8000 feet. To prepare, our crew leader has scheduled practice hikes twice a week for the next 2 months.

These practice hikes probably don't seem like much fun, but I love 'em! It's a great chance to have each scout decide on a route, lead the group, and set the pace. I get to talk about the boring stuff with the other adults - driving, gas stops, tour permit, youth protection, ... and we get to imagine what great things we'll experience on the trek. We also get to practice being prepared for problems - throwing out 'What If' scenarios and see how we'd handle them. 'Call 911' isn't an accepted answer either. :-)

It's important to start nice and slow when beginning hiking after a sedentary winter, even though that can be a challenge. We just had our first hike and we only went for 1 hour, covering about 2.5 miles on flat ground with no packs. We'll increase the pace, weight, and distance over the next few weeks as feet get used to boots, muscles get used to working, and lungs get used to huffing and puffing.

All these practice hikes are also a great beginning to the hiking merit badge which is a pretty tough one to complete, along with backpacking.

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Posted: 12:51 05-09-2007 141
High Adventure Planning
11 weeks until our crew leaves for backpacking in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in Wyoming. We had our first meeting last night to list all the 'stuff' that needs to happen before the actual trek, and I think it might have been a bit of an overload for some of the guys. :-)
There are 8 scouts and 2 adults going so we're working on finding the best logistics for travelling. That's the biggest challenge for us, everything else looks like the scouts will step up and take over. Here's a short list of the tasks to be distributed by the crew leader:

So, there's enough work to go around. :-) Luckily, we kept information from last year so we're not starting from scratch this time.

Five of the eight scouts have already attended a 2-hour Leave No Trace workshop that I presented and they are demonstrating LNT skills on our two campouts before July.

There are some special first aid concerns for this trip - altitude sickness, dehydration, and hypothermia are all things we need to be aware of and keep an eye out for.

The practice hikes start next week!

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Posted: 10:55 05-03-2007 140
The Knack of Knives and Knots
Half of the new scouts in the troop attended the Paul Bunyan campout last weekend. This was our first tent camping trip of the season and the agenda was to teach the Totin' Chip and Firem'n Chit skills.
The Panther patrol did a most excellent job of scheduling the day's events and two scouts working on the Communications merit badge planned and led the campfire program. This was the best organized weekend we've ever had! I hope it is a harbinger of a great summer ahead.

The two new patrols are the Carnivorous Crows and the Buffalos (or, as they prefer, the Buffalo Chips). This year, we are trying larger patrol sizes. Two years ago, we had 3 patrols of 6 scouts each but when a few scouts dropped out and some moved away, those patrols were merged. This year, we have two patrols - 9 in one and 12 in another. The 12-man patrol has a lot of sports-oriented scouts so I expect they will never have a full contingent. And, 3 or 4 are just 'trying out' scouting without much expectations of staying in. We'll work with them.

These scouts were taught knife, axe, and saw safety by experienced scouts and were presented with their Totin' Chip cards. We tear off a corner for poor tool safety and when all the corners are gone, the program needs to be redone. Each card gets the first corner taken off when it is presented so the scouts know it's serious and because 4 mistakes are too many.

Fire safety was covered and Firem'n Chit cards given out. In the past, we've burned off one corner, but these scout leaders just tore one off.

The basic two half hitches, tautline hitch, clove hitch, and bowline knots were instructed. The plan was to do a lashing project in the afternoon, but the scouts preferred to practice their whittling, chopping, and sawing, along with a few little fires being built and stomped out.

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Posted: 9:44 04-26-2007 139
Learning Experiences
Three adults in our troop just completed Assistant Scoutmaster training. Two of them are parents of new scouts. Now they get to start practicing adult leadership in Boy Scouts - trying out the theoretical in a practical way.

One of these new Assistant Scoutmasters (ASM) told me he wanted to get some color-coded rope for a new scout patrol to use in practicing knots and he wanted to know if he could buy it and get reimbursed. This is a good example of how a simple thing can and should be used as a learning exercise.

I explained that materials for the patrol really should be requested by the Patrol Leader or Troop Guide through the Quartermaster. (Our troop has a Troop Guide for each New Scout Patrol.) This gives the Patrol Leader some responsibility and lets the Quartermaster keep track of what the troop has purchased and where it is.

The ASM could mention to the Troop Guide that it would be useful for each scout to have a color-coded rope and ask him what he thinks - he'll most likely agree that it would be good.
Then, ask him how he thinks they should go about getting the rope. There's a good chance he won't think of requesting it from the Quartermaster, but may just say "buy some at the store".
Then, ask him if he thinks getting rope for the scouts would be a Quartermaster job. And, he'll say "oh yeah."
Then, ask him if he thinks he should go ask the Quartermaster for the rope or if he should give some responsibility to one of the new scouts to do that task.
A discussion about the length, thickness, kind, and number of ropes required for practicing knots would result in a specific request that the Quartermaster could fulfill. The scouts will also need to either fuse or whip the ends and decide how they can be colored.

By using the troop structure and placing as much leadership and decision making on the scouts as possible, the program is improved. Instead of an adult handing out a dozen lengths of color-coded rope, the Troop Guide got to figure out what was needed, how to use the troop structure, share his leadership, and get the rope to the scouts.

From the scouts' point of view, their Troop Guide got them the rope they needed and they whipped the ends and colored them so they have respect for his leadership and ownership of the results.

From the adult's point of view, it can be a lot more work, very inefficient, and sometimes frustrating. :-) Instead of a 20 minute task of buying, cutting, fusing, coloring rope, it may take a week or more for the Troop Guide discussion, getting the request to the Quartermaster, the Quartermaster getting the rope to the patrol leader, and finally the scouts preparing the rope.

The end result is the scouts have rope to practice knots, but the Scout-Led path to get there makes those ropes much more valuable.
An even better solution for this specific rope issue would be to have each new scout make his own knot-tieing rope from twine - Ropemaking Machine

The next time you see a need for rope, tents, tools, ..., anything for the troop, make sure the scout leaders agree with the need and guide them to fulfill the need rather than having an adult step in and do it.

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Posted: 9:51 04-10-2007 138
Moccasin Results
We learned a lot from our moccasin project at a troop meeting last month.
There were about 25 kits made and most of the scouts really enjoyed the project and were successful in starting their kits and finishing them at home.

Four scouts made moccasins from scratch. I got their shoe sizes and used a pattern to lay out the pieces on a side of suede leather. I also glued the foot pads in place since that would have been an hour of just waiting for it to dry and it is potent glue. They had to cut out the pieces, punch the holes, and lace them together with leather strips.

Things we learned:

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Posted: 10:17 04-09-2007 137
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