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Active Participation
I received a question from a visitor and thought it might be good to share with you...

Question: My husband and his friend lead a local Boy Scout troop. They have attempted this year to bring organization to a Troop that had some lax requirements for advancement. One of the things they require is a 60 percent meeting attendance. Word is that several of the older boys working toward their Eagle are leaving the troop for another church troop that only requires 50 percent attendance. Is there a national requirement for meeting attendance? If so, we want to do what the national office requires, regardless of the loss.

My Reply:
The short answer is "No, there is no meeting attendance requirement."

I'm a Scoutmaster of a troop of 60 scouts now. I try to manage our troop following the BSA guidelines and rules all the time. I've been through Scoutmaster training and I read the Scoutmaster Handbook, Field Book, Guide to Safe Scouting, and any other BSA literature I can acquire. I use these as my sole direction when it comes to requirements, rules, and regulations. I've spent lots of hours talking with other Scoutmasters just to find out how their troops are run. I've sat in on their troop meetings and talked with scouts in other troops as often as I can. The reason I do this is because I'm always looking for ways that our troop might improve.

The requirement to be 'active in your troop' for Star, Life, and Eagle scout rank advancement is a difficult one to interpret. The BSA has purposefully made it vague because every scout's situation is unique. This gives the Scoutmaster leeway for each scout. Without specific requirements such as "attend 60% of troop meetings", a Scoutmaster could play favorites or could make things very difficult for some certain scouts. Unfortunately, I know that has happened.

Many troops have done exactly what your troop is doing - setting a percentage requirement. That is not a good thing. It tells scouts they 'have to' attend a certain number of meetings rather than having them 'want to' attend. It also takes a great method of self-evaluation away from them. I believe a better solution is to talk with the scouts as they advance and let them know that 'being active' and 'demonstrating leadership' are requirements they need to fulfill in order to advance. I try to have a Scoutmaster Conference at least every 6 months so the scout can check in and let me know how he is doing. The best way I've found to decide if a scout is being active or not is to ask him. Usually, a scout knows if he is participating enough or not and will tend to be harder on himself than I will. There are some that will try to fake their way through, but they tend to be pretty obvious too, and then I pull out the report of how many activities he has participated in and ask him to explain how his participation equals 'active participation'.

If a scout no longer enjoys scouting, then he should not be in scouts. Whether it is 10% or 80% of the troop activities that he is being forced to attend just to get the next rank, he is not a scout fulfilling the requirements to advance. If a scout is active in football and track and comes to the 40% of troop activities that he can and demonstrates scout spirit, leadership, and fellowship while he is at them, then that is 'actively participating'.

Just to be sure you understand, it sounds good on paper, but every 6 months when the scout leadership changes, I start over from scratch training the new leaders on expectations. Sometimes it works great. Other times I find myself looking forward to the next 6 months. :-) When a troop is really led by the scouts and supported by adults, it will have high times and low times, very dependent on the scouts in leadership positions. If a troop runs efficiently and consistently, it is probably too dominated by adults.

Scout On

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Posted: 14:33 04-30-2008 324
20 Miles is Pretty Far
Our two Philmont crew leaders came up with a schedule of 5, 10, and 20 mile hikes to prepare for the treks. There's a total of about 250 miles planned and everyone is expected to participate in at least 110 miles. In addition, we're supposed to get more conditioning on our own through sports or exercise.

Some of these scouts are also undertaking the Hiking merit badge so each 10 and 20 mile hike has a planned route and trip plan created for it. The scouts write up a short report after the hike about the weather, terrain, environment, and interesting observations.

On Sunday, I participated in the first 20-miler - we have another the end of May. One scout laid out a 20-mile loop through a large county park on the other side of town so it was new territory and not redundant - but then he couldn't attend. :-( So, he missed the rain, and the sleet, and the 2 hours of SNOW! He also missed the deer, owls, snow geese, swans, hawks, and other assorted critters.

These scouts keep almost a 4MPH pace when hiking and take very few short breaks. We completed the hike in just about 6 hours - and it was definitely a full 20 miles. The most common comment at the end was "Well, I won't have to do THAT again!" The requirements for the Hiking merit badge include five 10-mile hikes and one 20-miler.

So, I've now hiked the 84 mile distance of our scheduled trek #32. I'll do it again over the next 5 weeks and then it's the real thing. It looks like our longest day on the trek will be about 12 miles, but with backpacks, terrain, elevation, and altitude, that will be a lot more of a challenge than any 20-mile flatland hike down on the prairie.

Scout On
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Posted: 16:57 04-29-2008 323
Keeping Interest
For the scouting skills required for advancement, there are enough experienced scouts that can teach and pass on the skills to the newer scouts. But, how do the experienced scouts learn new stuff that keeps them interested?

This troop has peer patrols rather than mixed-age patrols. The oldest patrol has 6 scouts, all of whom will be aging out over the next year.

At the last PLC meeting, their patrol leader started a discussion around his patrol's view that the PLC is always asking them to help the little scouts and they don't do anything fun at troop meetings.

When I was asked to join the discussion, I acknowledged that they are often asked to lead, mentor, and teach since they have the skills and experience to share. That's the way things work, not just in scouts, but everywhere.

I asked if there were any particular things the experienced scouts wanted to do, but they had no specific ideas. I offered a few ideas and they thought they sounded interesting.

I made a deal with them. They organize an interesting, interactive, fun knot-tieing session for a troop meeting. If it is well-planned and executed, then the next troop meeting there will be a race car and some sports cars and an expert to present racing skills to them.

After that, if they want to do more, there will be other new activities as long as they continue a high level of mentoring and support of the troop. Other ideas offered by adults in the troop include airplanes, advanced first aid, rock music gear, gas engines, and chemistry. My hope is that the scouts will soon come up with ideas they want to do, otherwise it will fail.

If this catches on, then it may become a venture patrol over time. Even though ideas are a dime a dozen, without them things get stagnant.

Scout On
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Posted: 15:51 04-23-2008 322
Jamboree Countdown

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Posted: 10:39 04-17-2008 321
2fer Scout Pants
On April 15, the Switchback zip-off scout pants go on a 2-for-1 sale. That's $20/pair rather than $40 and they are suddenly a pretty good deal. The sale is supposed to be for 2 weeks.

I've been wearing my Switchbacks to every scouting outing, meeting, and roundtable since August, 2006 and they are still working great. Now, this is a great opportunity for the troop to replace many of the blue jeans with green nylon. And, it's perfect timing for the crews going to Philmont.

One scout in the troop has volunteered to gather orders and checks and pick up the pants at the scout shop for everyone since it's about 20 miles away. Reducing travel, time, and hassle for the families.

You might want to check with your local scout shop about the sale. I've been told the sale is on the national level so don't miss out!

Scout On
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Posted: 11:01 04-11-2008 320
It's been awful hard to find time to post the past couple weeks. Since I try to make the posts somewhat useful rather than just rambling about life as a scoutmaster, I'd rather not post than post about nothing.
I just presented Red Cross CPR training to a troop in a neighboring town today. This is the third year they've had me do this for them so they can meet their high adventure requirements. Today, there were 14 people so I'm glad to have been able to help them out.
I figure it's a great idea to train your scouts in CPR since chances are they will use it to help one of us old dudes rather than one of the young scouts. I think of it as cheap life insurance.

Every weekend until August, I'll either be presenting Wilderness First Aid training for crews going to Philmont or camping with our troop. Even if you aren't heading to Philmont where the WFAB certification (ore equivalent) is required, it's some good knowledge to have for your normal campouts where you're more than 30 minutes from ambulances anyway.

For this training, I'm making some fake wounds that look way cool! A guy in our troop is getting me some IV bags so I can have the wounds pump blood so the next session should be a real kick. As a bonus, I think the scouts will have fun using them for first aid training for rank advancement and merit badges. I plan to put together a photo and instructions page so other troops can make some - they're real easy and look real real.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:10 04-05-2008 319
Scout Heros
Boy Scouts that have been in the troop less than 2 years tend to be down the pecking order quite a way. Older scouts in a troop can lord over them and the experienced scouts naturally tend to lead the troop. I've found that scouts really look forward to the time when they can be on top of the heap.

I was reminded this evening that every Boy Scout can be a hero and be looked upon with awe. It only takes about 45 minutes and a little preparation, and it's a lot of fun.

Since I teach CPR and Wilderness First Aid, the Cubmaster of a local pack asked me if I would teach the cub scouts basic CPR and First Aid skills - in about 15 minutes. :-) Once I caught my breath from laughing, we haggled down to an intro to the topic and some interactive demonstrations.

I got 5 boy scouts to stop by for 30 minutes. They did a very short skit where they showed Check - Call - Care steps and Pressure - Elevate - Bandage for a cut. They also demonstrated Airway - Breathing - Circulation for breathing emergencies.

We had a couple dozen gauze pads, roller bandages, slings, and gloves for the cubs to practice with. Each boy scout took 3 or 4 cub scouts and put red duct tape on an arm or leg. The other cubs fixed the victim up real good!

What fun! The cubs did their best, then got silly with head wounds and full body wraps. But, they actually heard the main points and used them. And, best of all, they were tripping over each other trying to impress the big boy scouts with what they could do - even though these boy scouts were the younger ones in the troop. It was great for them to be the 'big guys' for a change.

So, look for opportunities to get your boy scouts down to the pack level to help out with short program topics when possible. First Aid, rope work, navigation, fire safety, or campfire stories can all be quick, interactive activities to do with the cubs. Don't try to teach them, just let them taste a bit of the adventure to come.

Scout On
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Posted: 23:42 03-25-2008 318
Forming Patrols
New Scouts joining the troop are a blast. When they are with the older scouts in the troop, they are pensive, unsure, quiet, and checking out everything that goes on around them. Then, when they are in their New Scout Patrol with just their peers, the chatter goes through the roof, they get squirrely, and the excitement of being a Scout really shows. In a month, when they are comfortable with their position in the troop, the troop meetings will be more 'lively'.

Our troop has new scouts from 4 different packs this year, from a single scout out of one to an entire den of 7 scouts from another. In past years, it's been easy because we only had enough new scouts to make one patrol or we had fairly even-sized groups from packs so they made patrols. But, this year, there are some new challenges and some of what I've done might be helpful to others.

First off, I had to decide to split 18 scouts into 2 or 3 patrols. I would love to have 3 patrols and then have every scout really try to recruit another boy to join. If 2 in each patrol were successful, that would make patrols of 8 scouts each. But, historically, individual scouts have rarely recruited friends.

A patrol in our troop typically has 50% to 75% participation on campouts. A patrol of 6 means 3 to 5 scouts while a patrol of 9 means 5 to 7 on a campout. Nearly all scouts in our troop are active in at least 2 other organizations besides school - sports, music, theater, church.

For those reasons, we have 2 new patrols with 9 scouts in each. This gives them the opportunity to earn the National Honor Patrol award too. I believe patrols of 8 to 10 work better than 6-8, especially in communities with many activity choices.

It didn't seem right to have 7 friends from a pack in a patrol with 1 or 2 new guys thrown in. To mix things up and still keep good friends together, I made a list of all the scouts and handed it out to every scout. They chose 1, 2, or 3 names they wanted to be with in a patrol. Or, they could choose "Anyone is fine".

This actually worked out very well. Every scout got to be with at least 2 of his 3 choices. One patrol was made up of 4 from a den and 5 from another den. The other patrol had 1, 1, 4, 3 so there was no dominating group in either patrol. The next time this happens, I'll have them pick 1 or 2 names instead of 3. That will set their expectations better.

The last thing I did was to talk with all the new scouts in a separate room from the troop. I made it clear (hopefully) that scouting is an individual adventure in the company of other adventurers. At times, we'll all work together and other times they each have to push themselves to succeed. One of the great parts of scouting is making new friends and I will put the patrols together to make that possible. My goal was to set their expectations that Boy Scouts is a new, different experience from Cub Scouts and they won't have the same old guys together - they're expected to make a new gang.

On Monday, the new scouts will meet and learn who is in their patrols. The Troop Guides will make the announcement and then gather their scouts together for a couple get-acquainted games. They'll then do as many of the Joining requirements as they can and start in on Patrol identity - name, yell, and flag.

Realistically, two scouts from each patrol will drop scouting in the first 6 to 10 months. Since I know this to be a high probability, recruitment will be pushed. The SPL, Troop Guides, and Scoutmaster will all be telling the new scouts that 10 is the best size for a patrol. They will be encouraged to invite friends to our open house in May or to a troop meeting, patrol meeting, or campout.

Scout On

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Posted: 10:54 03-14-2008 317
BSA Report to the Nation
The BSA creates an annual report to highlight the achievements of its program. A group of scout delegates is chosen to present the report to the Speaker of the House each year to fulfill a requirement in the BSA charter. Since Hilliam Howard Taft in 1910, every U.S. president has received a BSA Report to the Nation delegation.

The youth in the delegation are chosen because they embody the spirit and values associated with Scouting. This year, a Webelos scout from Minnesota was chosen as a delegate because he saved his younger brother from drowning. He received the Honor medal, just like his father did as a youth.

The delegation has just completed their 5-day trip and the BSA has a site showing the delegates and their activities at What a great experience, meeting top government officials and touring tons of historic and political sites.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:24 03-08-2008 316
From the Scout Handbook - "A Scout is reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others."

As a scout experiences the wonders of the outdoors, stormy weather and calm blue skies, pounding surf and trickling streams, bitter cold and stifling heat, towering trees and barren desert, he experiences the work of God. Appreciating life in its multitude of forms, from the smallest insects to gigantic wildlife, a scout comes to terms with his place in the world. Though humans are the dominant beings on our planet, we need to play the role of steward rather than king - tending and caring for our world instead of taking all we can for our own comfort.

As technology continues to become more and more prevalent and people visit the wild places less and less, our connection to and understanding of our natural environment lessens. We take shelter, food, comfort, and entertainment for granted rather than needing to work for it. When we never have to harvest an apple from a tree, kill a fish or animal for meat, or put on layers of clothes to stay warm, we lose the sense of awe and respect we should have for nature.

Many outdoors people claim that the wilderness is their 'church' rather than a specific structure or organization. These people revere in the awesome power of God by being in the thick of natural creation. The reverence expressed for the world and its creation is common ground that all scouts can reach when struggling to understand the last point of the Scout Law.

No matter the specific religion or denomination, being reverent toward God should include our natural environment. In nature, there is no good or evil, just survival. Animals don't have the human vices of lust, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, sloth, and anger. We can learn a lot about simplifying and enjoying life from observing the wild creatures. We can also learn how our ability to care for and serve others puts us above the simple animals.

While in the wilds, a scout may come face-to-face with God. He may feel God around him in the wind, the water, the earth, and the open, wild beauty. When the scout returns home, he needs to continue that respect and awe toward God by participating in the practices of his religion. Becoming a complete citizen includes fulfilling expectations of the church to which a person belongs. What a great opportunity to share with other youth and adults in his church, when he returns from a backpacking trek. Faithfully performing his religious duties demonstrates his reverence while in civilization.

Respecting the beliefs of others can be a challenge. It does not mean to accept and believe those other beliefs. It means to allow other people the freedom to believe what they have found to be true in their lives. In a scout troop associated with a specific church, practices of that church can be used on scouting activities with everyone having the same belief structure. But, in troops with scouts from various beliefs, we need to be careful not to promote specific practices of one group. For example, requiring scouts to remove their hats at grace may be appropriate for some religions but may be a demonstration of disrespect to God for another.

Reverence fosters joy and a cheerful heart, able to appreciate and care for the good in life.

A Scout is Reverent.
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Posted: 15:34 03-04-2008 315
A Blue & Gold Week
Normally, the Blue & Gold parties of the local packs are spread out over a month. This year, most of them scheduled for this week. It actually makes it easier for an old guy - I only have to worry about being at the right place this week, then I can relax.

The BSA has scheduled a different Cub Scout theme for each month. This helps Packs plan out their activities because there are also resources available to support those themes.

In case you didn't know, February's theme for Cub Scouts is Chinese New Year. Even though I'm a Scoutmaster and spend little time with the local Packs, this theme had a big impact on me this week. As I attended 3 separate Blue & Gold banquets (and still have one more on Friday) to receive new scouts crossing over to our troop, every meal was a Chinese buffet. I've been drooling since the first B&G on Sunday and it's been getting worse every time I open the door to the next banquet.

The problem is that I haven't gotten to eat any of the food! Once I had already eaten and the other two times our scouts chose to only attend the ceremony and not the dinner. Since I'm just a tag-along, they made the decision. But, the kicker is that those scouts still got to have a plateful of leftovers while I was meeting with the new scouts' parents!

So, Friday is my last chance. I plan on showing up a bit early and maybe put on my poor, starving, pathetic look. That should be good for an egg roll at least.

This crop of new scouts looks very promising. We have groups of 7, 5, 5, and 1 coming from four Packs. This is the first year of receiving scouts from one pack, so that is exciting. Fourteen of the guys appear to be chomping at the bit to scout, while I think the other four are coming along to check it out. Keeping them involved will be the challenge for our Troop Guides.

Scout On
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Posted: 17:56 02-27-2008 314
Artificial Adventures
The Nature Conservancy funded a study to determine if the trend in outdoor recreation was declining or not. The study includes data on camping, backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, visits to national and state parks and forests. The study was done in the USA but collaborated by similar results in Japan.

Results indicate that between 1981 and 1991 there was roughly a 1.25% annual rate of decline in per capita nature recreation. Since then, nature use has continued to drop between 18% and 25%. That means for every 100 people that enjoyed nature 15 years ago, there are now only 75 people.

At first glance, folks like me that enjoy a little solitude on the mountain might say, "Cool! less people bothering me out there!" But, if we stop and think, a sickening realization sets in. Fewer people experiencing nature means fewer people that care about it, and fewer people caring means less conservation, protection, and maintenance. Without experiencing nature, people don't make the connection that clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and clean food to eat all require work on our parts.

Why are we getting outdoors less? The study indicates the root cause is videophilia - the sedentary pasttime of video games, movies, and internet. Computers can now create such vivid and exciting adventures for us to watch, we don't need to go experience things ourselves. Instead, we sit on our butts and navigate a character through a imaginary world with our little thumb instead of navigating our entire bodies to the top of a real mountain.

As these artificial adventures become more interactive and sensational, I expect the trend to sit at home will continue to rise. As that trend continues, our natural spaces will gradually disappear with no one left to care about or care for them.

As a scouting volunteer and outdoorsman, this trend is not a surprise to me. I see it every week when I ask scouts what they've been doing. We have two scouts that enjoy golfing, but the rest can carry on lengthy, in-depth discussions and debates about the various techniques to improve your score on Halo, Puzzle Pirates, Need for Speed, and a slew of other games while having no interest in any outdoor activity.

One of my main goals this year is to raise the participation level in the troop and to challenge scouts to become more in tune with nature on our campouts. Making that as interesting as doing laser battle with an army of dragons or space monsters will be a tough order. But, we have them captive for 12 days at Philmont, a week at summer camp, and 4 days canoeing so we have a chance.

Scout On

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Posted: 11:46 02-25-2008 313
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