My two sons would just as soon spend 3 or 4 hours playing computer games than interact with real people. But, who can blame them? With the amazing graphics, sound, and practically real interaction, games these days are nearly "like being there". One son just got a unicycle for Christmas and has put in many hours and can now ride it. But, he just found an online unicycle game and there he can hop, jump, ride rails, fly, and more waaaaay cool stuff that he'd never be able to do in real life. Fantasy at your fingertips, I guess.
It's pretty hard for hiking and camping to compete with flying, explosions, racecar driving, and the like. Actually getting out into the world takes effort, has limitations, and isn't always fun. Why bother when I can click a button and be flying a plane or parachuting behind enemy lines or battling orcs and goblins?
For all the concern scout leaders have about sports and other organizations taking boys from scouting, we are completely missing the boat. A boy involved in any other activity is positive, but we are losing boys to sedentary fantasy without social interaction. This, I believe, will result in the slow death of nature.
A very interesting study complete in 2006 (http://www.videophilia.org/uploads/JEM.pdf) takes a look at the 50 year increase in national park attendance followed by 16 years of decrease through 2003. The decrease began in 1988, right when Internet use, video games, home theatres all began to gain popularity. Time spent on these sedentary activities increased 327 hours/year for the average American from 1987 to 2003 – that's about 2 full weeks. I would suggest that for scout-age boys, the increase is vastly greater. This electronic entertainment propagation is reducing the amount of time we spend actually living life.
We are spending far less time in the outdoors and the trend is continuing down. Environmental awareness, conservation, and responsible stewardship can't help but drop as we spend less time interacting with and experiencing the wilds. As all our cravings for excitement and challenge are fulfilled electronically, we care less for the real world. It doesn't really matter if there are green spaces, wilderness areas, birds, or beasts if we have no perceived need for them.
Videophilia is the new human tendancy to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media. This is in contrast to Biophilia, people's appreciation of nature, and is already having a huge negative impact on our population. It has been tied to the national surge in obesity, poor exercise habits, lower social awareness, and lessened interpersonal skills. As these trends continue and our concern for the people and world around us decrease, support for, use of, and caring about our natural environment will fall by the wayside.
Looking at the overall problem through the eyes of one person, it may appear hopeless. After all, the Internet is here to stay, video games keep getting better, and electronic entertainment just keeps getting more and more real. That can't be changed, and it may be a losing battle, but I can at least do something where I am. Here's a few ideas:
Ensure the troop has at least one campout every month
Push for one more hike or outdoor activity every month
Hold troop meetings outdoors
Find outdoor rather than indoor service projects
Guide Eagle Scouts towards outdoor projects
Challenge scouts to earn the National Camping award
Promote environmental merit badges and awards, such as Leave No Trace, Hornaday, World Conservation, Paul Bunyan
Go for a walk every day, even if it's just 10 or 15 minutes
Maybe we should list Outdoors first of the eight methods of scouting for the next few years since it always seems to be around 3 or 4 when they are listed. This is the main reason I started my sons in scouting. It wasn't for the citizenship or character development – it was to make sure they had a reason to spend time in the outdoors, learning to care for themselves, nature, and others. The citizenship and character come from that experience.
Here are some great resources for scout learning in a fun way. Rather than reading books, these Decks Of ... have useful information packed onto colorful, well illustrated, sturdy cards.
They are great for a patrol meeting or merit badge session. They aren't waterproof, but heavy coated cardboard which holds up to lots of handling.
Stars, Birds, First Aid, Fishing, and Knots support the Astronomy, Bird Study, First Aid, Fishing, and Pioneering merit badges as well as being wonderful aids for rank advancement skills.
The new Birds and Fishing decks are for identification and have a few bonus cards with other data.
Fishing has great color illustrations, distribution, scientific name, fishing techniques, and a bit of other info for each fish.
Birds has a color photo, flight pattern, breeding times, wingspan, distribution, song, egg, and plumage helpful info.
Our troop has one of each in the troop library and they work well to keep scouts involved before a troop meeting. Maybe you could have your troop librarian buy one or two every six months until you have the set. They are $10 each at the scout shop.
A great image video for the world scouting movement - please share this one with parents of new scouts. "Think globally and act locally" comes to mind when I put into perspective the work at the troop or pack level against the cumulative effect of scouting around the world. Every scout is bound through the fleur-de-lis with all other scouts around the world.
Sticking with this training theme for one more post... With Webelos crossing to troops, this is a great time to review your adult training levels. All adults, whether registered volunteers or not, should complete Youth Protection before interacting with scouts, as a minimum. Youth Protection should be retaken every two years and can be quickly taken online. Those in registered positions should have a plan for completing the required training to receive the 'trained' strip.
Selecting an adult as your Training Chair can make life easier by having a single person with the main duty of tracking adult training needs and completions. Newly involved adults may need quite a bit of guidance in understanding what training is needed and finding available training sessions.
At MyScouting.org you can now take Climb On Safely and Trek Safely online. These are in addition to Weather Hazards, Youth Protection, Safe Swim Defense, and Safety Afloat.
In case you didn't know, at least one adult on every outing is supposed to be trained in Weather Hazards starting in 2009. There's no reason I can think of not to have every adult go through ALL of these online training modules to increase the overall safety of your unit.
AJ from Alabama and Lisa from South Carolina have claimed their prizes and a new contest for March is under way. There's $103 in prizes available, contributed by Firepistons.com, ClassB.com, and BoyScoutTrail.com.
You could win a $28 Fire Piston kit, $50 product coupon, or $25 Scout Shop gift card. Or, if you don't enter, you can be sure to win none of the above.
There's nothing I enjoy more in scouting than kicking a scout out. When new scouts join, one of the first things I tell them is that my hope is to kick them out. I don't really care if they reach Eagle or not because that is completely up to them. But, I want to be the one to kick them out of Boy Scouts because they are still here having fun when they have to leave at age 18.
The oldest patrol of scouts in our troop is now down to two scouts with one more aging out in two weeks. The last to go will be in June. Six scouts in that patrol stayed active until their 18th birthday - some more active than others, but all participating. Four of them also reached Eagle rank.
At this week's troop meeting, I presented the most recent "ager outer" with his Eagle square knot so he'd have it ready when he became active as an adult. I feel that recognizing each scout that stays active to 18 is important. If they didn't reach Eagle, there's a good chance they earned the Arrow of Light and you can give them that square knot. If not that, then a sincere thanks for their impact on the troop.
Depending on the plans of the scout, he might be ready to take on an Assistant Scoutmaster role so you could present him with an adult application and patch right away too.
Recognizing the aging out scouts shows the younger scouts that expectation of "sticking with it". My hope is that this recognition activity will be taken over by the scouts instead of me for the next scout in two weeks since it's their troop and would probably be more meaningful. Besides, the next scout is my son. :-)
Tuesday was the 2nd of 4 Blue Gold Cub Scout dinners I'll be visiting this month. We're pulling in a few scouts from different packs which really helps the intermingling of scouts into patrols. They feel more like it's a new start rather than just a continuation of Webelos.
Two boy scouts just finishing their first year with the troop joined me to welcome the five new guys by replacing their neckerchiefs and removing their blue shoulder loops. My job was tough - I held the new neckerchiefs and handed them to the scouts when they asked.
When I got down to 1 neckerchief left and could still see two boys waiting to cross-over, I started getting a bit suspicious. I was specifically told 'five' scouts were joining us and I was even given their names. The last thing I wanted was to have one scout (and his family) start their Boy Scout time feeling left out. Wouldn't that be a bummer?
Now, I really try to minimize my involvement in the scouts' activities and usually enjoy watching them work things out. It was tempting to see what would happen when they turned to me for the last neckerchief and I could only hold up my empty hands. I'd love to see how they'd handle it and what they would do.
BUT, if you were there, you could tell as well as I that these two guys were already awful nervous being in front of a really big audience. With all eyes on us, I believe most of the adults could see that we were out of neckerchiefs and some were probably wondering what would happen. I weighed the growth potential versus the embarrassment potential and it was very lop-sided.
I just slipped my neckerchief off and had it ready for them to give to the last scout. No drama, no problem.
Sometimes just quiet support and filling little gaps is the best thing to do. Our two scouts thought everything went just fine and they did a great job. The new scouts are excited. And, I'd like to think maybe at least a couple adults noticed and will remember when their Bear grows up.
Walter left a note for me on the Visitors page about his view of the OA camping requirement. The Scoutmaster ultimately decides what counts as camping or not. Walter also mentioned that he counts all days of a long-term camp towards OA - so a 10-day Jamoree would count as 10 OA camping days. The 'official' lodge election report we use specificially says 5 nights of consecutive resident camping, so we would only count 5 of those Jamboree nights.
I brought up this discussion at the troop committee meeting last night to get input and direction from the adults supporting the troop. The main question I had was, based on the fact that the Scoutmaster decides what counts as OA-eligible camping, "how many nights should we count from our backpacking, canoeing, cycling treks that are 5 days or longer?" I recited the OA requirements and stated that I would be comfortable counting 0, 1, or 2 nights.
After a fairly short discussion, the 8 people decided it would be best to count 0 nights, in strict accordance with the OA requirement. The general thought being that if a scout is not attending 5 troop weekend campouts in tents over a 2-year period, then he's probably not really promoting the purposes of the OA as he could.
The Order of the Arrow is the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers and has four purposes:
Recognize Scout campers
Develop camping traditions and spirit
Promote Scout camping
Promote leadership in cheerful service to others
Each troop holds elections for the OA with all scouts present voting to approve or deny the membership of each scout on the ballot. All scouts on the ballot, no scouts, or just some scouts may be elected. To be elected, they need to receive a vote on at least 1/2 the submitted ballots and the number of ballots submitted must be at least 1/2 the troop membership.
To be eligible for OA membership, a scout must:
Be a registered BSA member
Hold First Class rank
Have approval of Scoutmaster
Complete 15 days and nights of Boy Scout camping in the 2-year period prior to the election
Requirement #3 puts the Scoutmaster in control over who s/he feels is 'worthy' of joining the Order. Scoutmasters may not allow certain scouts onto the ballot for any reason. The Scoutmaster has the responsibility to speak directly with a scout well before the election if he plans to keep his name from the ballot. I, as Scoutmaster, have chosen to allow all scouts that meet the other requirements to be on the ballot since they have attained First Class and have camped with the troop over the past 2 years. I leave it up to the scouts voting to determine who 'deserves' to get elected. In our troop, elections tend to be fairly miserly while other troops tend to elect everyone on the ballot.
Requirement #4 is the one that causes the most grief with scouts, from what I've seen. Extra details about the requirement are very important; The fifteen days and nights must include one, but no more than one, long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping. The balance of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps. The goal of the OA is to promote a strong camping program in the troop, so having a scout participate in many troop camping trips is important. But, if a scout attends summer camp, then any week-long backpacking, Philmont, Northern Tier treks do not count towards OA eligibility. The scout needs to do weekend camping with the troop for the other 10 days of camping.
I would encourage scoutmasters to distribute a list of eligible scouts before the elections so any scouts that wonder why they are not on the ballot can discuss it beforehand and understand the criteria. It's not much fun to explain why a scout's 27 nights don't make him eligible but another scout with 15 nights is eligible.
I just love a Good Turn! I figure the more I can do, the more examples I have to share with the scouts.
I got to do a fun good turn last Friday by volunteering to assist with a 4th grade school outing to a local park. There were 3 groups of about a dozen each rotating through 3 sessions. I got to lead a nature hike session. And, the kids built their own fires and cooked spaghetti for lunch. I made a couple new friends, like the little guy in the pic, and had a wonderful time getting worn out clomping through the snow. :-) I even had my BSA stocking hat on.
After awhile, it gets old hearing about 'Holding the door open', 'picking up my room' and saying 'Please' as good turns during scoutmaster conferences so I need to share rather than explain what is meant. A couple stories work a lot better than descriptions.
I believe the great scouting story of the English scout aiding Mr. Boyce pretty much says it all about Good Turns. A scout should keep his eyes open to the world arround him, looking for simple ways to help others at all times.
I buy the groceries for my family and I've got a habitual good deed going now. I actually get a 3-for-1, I figure. I park way out in the lot so others can get the close spots and I get a little exercise. I look for someone just finishing their unloading and ask if I can take their empty shopping cart for them. I return that cart to the store so the 'cart pick up dude' saves a bit of work. 3-for-1!
It's certainly not a big deal but it helps others. The people that park close and the 'cart pick up dude' don't even know I'm doing it so it's not for show. And, it's not something normally expected of me.
Promoting the Good Turn is really promoting the concept of putting others before yourself, looking out for others, and being a servant leader. I wrote about Eagle Characteristics over two years ago and I still think that's a pretty good list. Being aware of and caring for others is a strong building block for that distinction, and doing a good turn daily demonstrates that awareness.