The majority of the over 125 active merit badges introduce scouts to skills, careers, and hobbies which have little to do with Scouting. The goal of the merit badge program is to broaden a scout's experience, not just to improve his scouting skills, and that's why we have Coin Collecting, Dentistry, and Truck Transportation merit badges. They allow scouts to take a different path on the Boy Scout trail.
But, what about those Scouting Skills? Once a scout reaches First Class, does he stop using those skills he demonstrated to earn rank? In many cases, the answer is 'Yes'. Tying knots, performing first aid, and using a map and compass are not activities that occur very often in the everyday life of a scout. Fortunately, some of the merit badges specifically build on scouting skills so scouts can continue to develop their outdoor abilities.
These merit badges are the most useful to help scouts keep their skills strong:
Backpacking - builds on their camping skills and expands from simple weekend campouts. Great to include in Philmont preparation.
Camping - promotes more planning and preparation, and requires more camping and cooking experience.
Cooking - promotes varied and healthy cooking. A good merit badge for scouts planning their own high adventure trip.
First Aid - almost all 'explain' and 'describe' requirements. Completion of the Red Cross Wilderness and Remote First Aid course pretty much covers all the requirements.
Hiking - gets scouts out on the trail. I'd say this is the best badge for getting in shape and it's an obvious choice to include in Philmont preparation.
Orienteering - great exposure to more map and compass skills, crucial for high adventure treks.
Pioneering - additional knots and lashing work, culminating in a full-scale project planned and executed by the scout.
Swimming - expands on the First class requirements. A good pre-trek requirement for Sea Base.
Weather - helps scouts understand how weather happens so they can be more prepared on adventures. This is one area not really covered in rank advancement.
Nature/Bird Study/Mammal Study/Insect Study/Reptile & Amphibian Study - more exposure to the natural world after the 10 animals and plants requirements.
You could encourage scouts to do these merit badges as a way to build the overall skill level in a troop. Creating a Scout Challenge that includes these badges might be a good incentive.
I expect you've heard the talk of mandatory training for scout leaders coming along. I suppose that's probably really the only way to make it happen - make it required. I'm happy that all but 1 of the Assistant Scoutmasters in our troop have their Trained patch. That's 1 out of 16, and he's just got one more session to complete.
That's just the basic training required to wear the Trained patch. There's a lot of other Coaching that I'd recommend all adult leaders take to improve the safety and success of their unit activities. It shouldn't be taken because it's required for a patch or to do a tour permit - it should be because you want to be as prepared as possible for anything that may happen.
Here's 10 to consider:
WRFA - Wilderness and Remote First Aid provides leaders exposure to handling emergencies while out scouting. Whether it's a weekend campout or 10-day Philmont trek, this training is vital knowledge. At least two adults on every outing should have this training.
CPR - Heart problems can occur in adults at any time, whether hiking or at a troop meeting. All adults and youth over 14 should know how to do CPR and be exposed to AED usage.
Youth Protection (online) - It's mandatory for all BSA volunteers and is designed to help you keep our youth safe from abuse. You will learn the Boy Scouts of America's Youth Protection Guidelines, signs of abuse, and how to report suspected abuse. Every adult that interacts with youth should take it every two years. Required for 'Trained' patch and Scout Leader's Training award.
Intro to Outdoor Leader Skills - Introduction to the tenderfoot, 2nd class, and 1st class scouting skills so adults can help scouts complete their requirements. It doesn't make sense for someone to sign off on a first aid or knot tying requirement if he doesn't know the skill well himself. All adults that teach or sign off should take it. Required for 'Trained' patch and Scout Leader's Training award.
Scoutmaster Specific - Three sections to introduce scoutmasters and assistants to the workings of a Boy Scout troop. Good exposure for all parents, and required for 'Trained' patch and Scout Leader's Training award.
Safe Swim Defense (online) - Learn the safety guidelines for all water activities in the BSA. All swimming activities in Scouting are required to follow the eight principles known collectively as the Safe Swim Defense plan. A unit that follows the plan can expect a safe, enjoyable aquatic experience. Safe Swim Defense is required for BSA tour permits.
Safety Afloat (online) - Learn the safety guidelines for boating activities in the BSA. All boating activities in Scouting are required to follow the nine principles of Safety Afloat. With an emphasis on accident prevention through proper preparation and skills, a unit that follows Safety Afloat can expect a safe, enjoyable activity. Safety Afloat is required for BSA tour permits for any trip afloat. /li>
Trek Safely (online) - Learn how to safely plan and lead a high adventure trek using the BSA guidelines. Covers seven key safety points about trekking and is recommended for adult leaders organizing any type of trek. You will watch a brief video broken into two sections and answer questions after each section.
Climb On Safely (online) - Learn the BSA climbing guidelines. Covers eight key safety points about climbing and rappelling and is recommended for adult leaders organizing any type of climbing outing. You will watch a brief video broken into three sections and answer questions after each section.
Weather Hazards (online) - Learn to plan for bad weather and make good decisions when you are out in it. Must be completed prior to requesting a tour permit from the BSA. The module presents safety precautions for eight different types of weather, as well as planning, preparation, and traditional weather signs.
How many matches does it take a Boy Scout to light a fire? I've seen it done with 58 matches - seriously! But, it really should just take one match. Preparing the fire lay is important, but so is lighting the match.
There are better and worse ways to light a match. Many people hold with index finger and thumb and strike away, using the thumb to apply most of the friction pressure. First off, this puts a lot of stress on the thin matchwood which results in often broken matches. It also puts the match tip up and out in the wind where it more often than not goes out right away. Finally, it promotes thrusting the match into the tinder immediately, with just the chemicals flaring and before the match wood has started to burn.
Consider trying this method instead:
Hold the match like writing with a tiny pencil
Place your index finger and thumb up by the butt of the match, rather than the head
Place your middle finger close to the head of the match
Use your middle finger to put pressure on the matchhead to box
Strike the match towards you rather than away from you
Let the matchwood start burning before placing the match in your fire.
Placing your middle finger close to the head greatly reduces the chance of breaking the match. Since it is not used to hold the match, you can easily move it away when the match lights. After the striking motion, the match is left held between your index finger and thumb with the match head down and cupped in your hand, protected from wind. In this position, you can give the match wood time to catch and then light your prepared fire.
There are many things you and your scouts can do to promote your troop to prospective new scouts that don't require a huge effort or expense. If your troop is hoping to grow, think about giving these tips a try:
Eagle Scouts - Tell Webelos den leaders you have two Eagle Scouts that would love to visit a November or December den meeting and answer questions about Boy Scouting, not to promote your troop. If you have no Eagles, go with Life Scouts. Make sure they wear their uniforms, sashes, high adventure patches, and take other mementos from their adventures.
Communicate - Call the Cubmaster and Webelos den leaders in May to let them know what you have planned for their scouts in the fall to help with Arrow of Light and transitioning. Call them again in September to remind them, make sure you still have the correct contact, and ask how many scouts they have in their dens.
Scout Skill Day - A scout-o-rama is a great way to show Webelos some fun scout skills and impress their parents and den leaders. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but does take some planning effort.
Pinewood Derby - offer to help with running the races, moving cars, anything they need on that one day.
Special Awards - Our council has a Summit Achievement Award for scouts that earned the Arrow of Light, joined a troop, and did a few other requirements. Check if your council has any special awards for Webelos and promote them to the dens so they are aware.
Open Troop Meetings - Invite Webelos to visit any troop meeting in the fall.
Catch One Early - If you get one Webelos scout to commit to join your troop early in the fall, chances are good that many of his den mates will follow him, especially if he lets them know where he's going.
Twofers - When a Webelos decides to join, or when he has his scoutmaster conference for the Arrow of Light award, let him know that this is the perfect time to have a non-scouting buddy join him in Boy Scouts. He can get a Recruiter strip if he gets a friend to join with him.
Den Chief - This one does take a big effort on the part of one scout, but it is also a troop Position of Responsibility for advancement. In May, help one of your First Class scouts decide to be a Den Chief for a 5th grade Webelos den from October to March. This gives the Webelos contact with your troop right up to their transition from Pack to Troop. And, he might continue on as a Troop Guide for the next 6 months.
Use Roundtables - Make an effort at every district roundtable meeting to look for and say "Howdy" to the leaders of the Packs in your area. It's easier to send their scouts to someone they know than just to a troop number.
Our troop has 32 tents currently in service. With 80 scouts in the troop, I've had lots of opportunity to see how tents wear out, break, or get damaged. Sometimes it is due to nature, other times it is neglect, and on rare occasion it is malicious.
We need to remember that learning is our goal, not perfection. When a person is first learning to do something, he makes mistakes and equipment can take a beating. Teaching how to use equipment will save a lot of money, hassle, and frustration along the way. Teaching early and reminding often for the first few campouts will help the learning become habit.
Here's my Top 10 Tent Tips to help extend the life of your troop tents, the more important first:
Mind the Door - When entering or leaving the tent, always open the zipper almost all the way, but not all the way. Opening just a crack and squeezing through is the biggest cause of tent damage I've seen. The stress on the zipper causes failure which is impractical to fix. Opening it all the way causes failure at the end of the zipper.
No Clutter - The best way to keep a tent floor intact is to keep gear outside. Pulling gear in and out through the door is hard on the zipper and fabric. If the tent has a vestibule, that is fine for items you'll need during the night or first thing in the morning, such as boots and raincoat, but packs covered and kept outdoors are even better. Teaching this one behavior to scouts is probably the one best way to improve their tenting experience.
Clean and Dry - After every use, turn the tent inside out to get everything out and wipe it clean. Set it up to dry completely and then pack it away. Store it in a dry area. This prevents mold and mildew.
Complete Setup - Poles break because stress is not evenly distributed. Ensure all clips, sleeves, velcro, guy lines, and hooks are connected correctly, completely, and sturdily. Leaving a couple velcro straps unhooked during high wind places increased pressure on single spots on the poles instead of spreading it out and SNAP! A broken pole instantly makes a hole in the rainfly.
Use a ground sheet - This protects the floor from the outside, mostly from the dirt. A ground sheet is just a cheap piece of painter's 6mil plastic. It comes in 8.5 foot side rolls, so it's simple to slice off a piece for a 2-, 3-, or 4-man tent's width. Have scouts request a new piece from the quartermaster when their piece is too ripped to continue.
Be Consistent - Always leave the zipper in the lower-right corner of the door if it is a double zipper, or the lower-left if it is a single zipper. It makes it easier to find and ensures the door gets opened fully each time.
Store the Bag - When setting up, put the stake bag and pole bag inside the tent bag immediately. Bags blowing away is an all too common waste of gear. Store the bags inside the front-right corner of the tent - it's easy to get to and consistently easy to find.
Mind the Wind - Set up your tent to protect it from wind. The rainfly on an A-frame style tent makes a great kite when the wind blows directly at an end. Instead, set up so a side is facing the wind. A dome-style tent with full rainfly to the ground can weather very strong winds and it doesn't matter much which way the wind hits it. Be sure to stake down all points and use the longer, higher guy lines at least on the upwind side for that bit of extra support to protect the poles.
Seal It, Tape It - Using a seam sealer annually will help keep the rain out. Duct tape on both the inside and outside of holes and tears works well. Colored duct tape is available so the silver won't stand out so much. Higher quality tape stays much better and doesn't fall off leaving a gooey mess.
No Fires - never, ever, ever have fire inside a tent. That's candles, stoves, matches, any flame.
A couple more tips:
Know how to set up, use, and take down your tent before ever stepping into the wilds. Teach and practice the right way to use the tents before scouts go on their first campout. Friday night, in the dark, fighting the wind and rain, is not the time to learn how to set up the tents.
Stakes don't usually break, but they get lost all the time. Painting a couple stripes of bright colored nail polish on each one makes them much more visible when breaking camp. If they have been driven into the ground, the only part you'll see is the head, so painting it bright is key.
No matter how well you take care of your tent, an animal can destroy it easily. Having any food or smellables in your tent is inviting disaster, and much more than just a ruined tent.
You should strive to create an environment in your troop where experienced scouts understand the value of maintaining their gear and passing that understanding on to newer scouts. Having a couple Instructors or Troop Guides or Eagle Scouts teach these ten tips to new scouts as soon as they join the troop will do wonders for your budget and quality of camping experience. If it's just the scoutmaster lecturing them about how expensive tents are and how they have to use their tent for seven years and blah, blah, blah, ... there's not nearly the impact.
Do you have other tips about tent use to share? comment away.
We held our annual Scout-o-rama today - another perfect day with sun and rustling leaves. One of these days, we're going to get wiped out by a huge storm - all our outings this year have fallen on wonderful weather. It's just a matter of time and averages.
We had a new twist to the scout-o-rama this year. It was planned by a single patrol as a regular outing rather than by the troop at large and we invited the other four troops in town. Two said they would participate and one actually did. They did an excellent job running a CPR station and Emergency Carries. There were 10 skill stations all together and 25 Webelos, just as in past years.
Our goal is to ultimately make this day a community event where boys that are in 5th grade but have not been in Cubs get a chance to check out Boy Scouts along with the Webelos. It has a way to go, but having the other troops involved is the first step. Next year, we'll start the planning earlier so all the troops have ample time to join in if they want.
Evidently, I wasn't the only one that thought they were silly and they are now cut in price to only 17 cents a set! For $2.00, you can get 12 forks, knives, and spoons. That's 68 cents per scout for a weekend of four meals.
Now, I still think it's silly, but they do make a fun prize for patrol competitions and that sort of thing. (I've actually used them for that and the scouts got a kick out of it.) How about you help out the ol' BSA and pick up a case or two of these things so ScoutStuff can make room for more fleur-de-lis cookie cutters or grandpa's fireforks.
Followed eight scouts on a 5-mile hike yesterday around the town. Each one successfully oriented their map, showed our direction 3 times, and led the gang for over a half mile with at least 3 intersections and changes in direction. We've got miles and miles of sidewalks, paved trail, and unpaved trail throughout our town and we used them all. We even had a short stretch along a road with no trail, so we use our hiking safety skills. We also found some big, beautiful, red poison ivy as well as many other plants ranging from wild grape vines to red pine to still gree buckthorn. No one quite identified 10 plants, but some got close. Animals were more scarce with just a squirrel, Canadian goose, blue jay, and red-wing blackbird being identified. We did see a flock of white pelicans floating high in the bright, clear blue sky but none of the scouts could identify what they were. As the sun began to set, a couple scouts were getting concerned we wouldn't make it back in time since they hadn't brought flashlights, but they did a great job and we were only 4 minutes late on a 2 hour estimate.
After that, I got to attend a district committee meeting - not nearly as much fun. :-)
If you're in the NorthEast, batton down the hatches. The rest of you guys, get your scouts out to enjoy this great hiking time of year.
It's Fall! For the next few weeks, we've got perfect camping and scouting weather - at least up north here. In a couple weeks, we can have snow and that can really limit the opportunity for advancement for T-2-1 rank requirements.
Now is a perfect time for those 5-mile hikes and 1-mile orienteering activities - no bugs, cool weather, and beautiful colors. Well, no bugs here except those crazy boxelder bugs and an occasional suicidal mosquito.
Yesterday, I had four Tenderfoot scouts lead me around our town on a 5-mile hike. It was spectacular! We saw geese, a squished frog, squirrel, crows, birch, poplar, red oak, white oak, and other plants and animals. In a month, it will be a lot more difficult to identify those plants without their leafs and the animals will be less plentiful.
Try to get your scouts out for those few nature requirements now. The first aid, memorization, and 'explain' requirements can more easily be done indoors in the winter.
This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of WD-40. All opinions are 100% mine.
There are a few tools and items in every great Scoutmaster's garage. You've probably got a handful of tent stakes, two half-full bottles of camp suds, and at least one can of WD-40. Does anyone really even know what WD-40 is made from? I guess it doesn't really matter much as long as it works. :-) The point is that you have it handy because Scoutmasters are constantly called on to fix this, mend that, and make do. Projects are always popping up and scouts rely on you to help them learn to handle problems themselves. Since scouting gear is out in the elements so much, protecting from rust and getting rid of corrosion are two things that come up occasionally and WD-40 fits the bill.
Well, if you are already a believer in the magic of WD-40, you should Join the fun in the WD-40 Fan Club online. The fan club has just been launched and the WD-40 folks have packed their site with lots of fun and informative tips, videos, and member input. Members of their free club enjoy:
premiere access to exclusive promotions and content
tips and new ways to use WD-40
chance to have your tip as the Use of the Day
get an Outdoor Enthusiast badge
If you're feeling lucky today, how about entering a contest? All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post, answering the following question:
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You can read the contest rules but the prize is about $50 worth of WD-40 items, including a "Now & Then Pack", baseball cap, and stainless steel travel mug.
One of the things I use WD-40 for is fishing. Spray a bit on the lure and for some reason it often increases the hits. Watch the latest WD-40 video release and you'll see why I got a good laugh.
Another use that you may not know of, but could be quite useful for Scouters - WD-40 can take off the sticky residue from using Badge Magic! Now, THAT's a good use. Protect anything metal from rust and corrosion, lubricate moving parts, dissolve gunk, even catch fish.
Wd-40 is the can with 1000 uses - what's your use?